|Nguyen Thi-Van, a 24-year-old marriage migrant from Vietnam, near her workplace at Itaewon, Seoul, Monday. / Korea Times photo by Lee Suh-yoon|
By Lee Suh-yoon
Nguyen Thi-Van, a 24-year-old marriage migrant from Vietnam, is not happy about the quality of state support given to multicultural families in Korea.
Nguyen, a Korean-Vietnamese translator at one of the state-run support centers for multicultural families in Yongsan, Seoul, serves as a daily communication channel between the center and some 140 Vietnamese migrant women.
The daily feedback she gets from the women converges into one message: none of these programs actually improve our lives in a meaningful way.
"You have to consider the fact that most migrant women are in financially challenged situations," Nguyen told The Korea Times in an interview near her workplace in Itaewon, Seoul. "In that respect, unless programs can offer real changes in their lives, they will not be able to take time off their part-time jobs."
"There are few long-term programs on a regular basis and the information from the centers is just a theoretical overview and almost identical to the content of previous programs," she added.
Nguyen, the eldest of three daughters and an architecture major, studied Korean in Hanoi in hopes of studying abroad someday. However, after her family's economic difficulties dashed her hopes, she married a Korean man and moved here in 2014. Some 40,000 Vietnamese marriage migrant women currently live in Korea.
Nguyen said the overall direction of most state-run education programs – mainly focused on keeping the marriages intact – does little to improve the lives of multicultural families.
"Many participants find the marriage relationship workshops, a government-required program, pointless," Nguyen said, shaking her head. "You don't need to learn how to better communicate with your husband, that's something that comes naturally as long as your way of thinking aligns with your partner."
Known as "Damunhwa" in Korean, multiculturalism is an increasingly hot-button issue, fueled by the continuing influx of migrant spouses and laborers – mostly from Southeast Asia. As critics have pointed out, however, most of the government's "damunhwa" policies try to hammer out the "non-Koreanness" in these newcomers rather than respecting and evolving with their differences.
Nguyen, who acts as the main communication channel between Vietnamese marriage migrant women and government institutions, knows what fancy "damunhwa" policy plans eventually trickle down to at the receiver's end.
Numerous programs are named and set up, but almost all do not have a professional curriculum and specific content.
"The damunhwa centers are emphasizing bilingual education these days, saying it could help damunhwa children with job prospects later – but it is only easy to say so," Nguyen said. She is currently trying to teach Vietnamese to her 25-month-old son.
"The center provides only a one-off class that has no proper teacher but tells migrant women how to teach their children using a provided textbook," Nguyen said. "It's providing only a minuscule part of what's needed to actually meet the purpose of the program."
Nguyen ended up taking matters into her own hands, compiling her own database of teaching materials and sharing them with other Vietnamese migrant women.
Putting such education-related programs aside, Nguyen believes the state should also pay more attention to the economic plight of multicultural families. And the situation is worse for older couples in their 20th year of marriage or more — around the time when Korean husbands become too old to work.
"The age difference is around 20 years or even more between the migrant woman and their Korean husband," Nguyen said. "By the time their child enters college, the dad is about 60 or 70, unable to be the primary breadwinner. I think that's why the college enrollment rate of multicultural children is lower than other Korean children and it's not because they don't want to study."
Nguyen's husband is almost twice her age.
"A Vietnamese woman I know came to me and cried one day, saying she could not earn enough for the family even if she worked 24 hours a day," Nguyen said with a sigh. "I am sometimes worried that it could be my future in 10 years."