Friday, January 27, 2017

Do Koreans Integrate into Australian Society? And Does it Matter?

Hi everyone, it's been a long time.  I keep meaning to post more, but Korea is less relevant to me these days.  I still blog, but now it is usually only about cycle touring, which has been a new and exciting hobby I have been doing since coming to Australia.

Anyway, I thought I'd address the controversial topics of immigration and integration for my first post since over a year ago, and relate it to Korea to keep things relevant.

Firstly, I'll let you know where my bias lies on this topic.  I can't speak for other countries, but when it comes to Britain, I think mass immigration is doing a fair amount of harm at the moment, and I am especially concerned about immigration from the Islamic world.  Unlike the US, whose Muslim population is comparatively small (proportionately) and whose immigration system usually takes mostly well-qualified and vetted immigrants from the Islamic world.  The UK has old ties with countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, which means we tend to have a fair amount of low-quality immigrants from these nations that do not benefit British society.

So how do I tie this in with Korea?  Well, I love a comparison, as you may know, so I thought I'd do one here between Korean immigrants to Australia and Muslim immigrants to the UK.

My biggest issue with Muslim immigrants to the UK, and perhaps more importantly to other countries in Europe, is that those already there appear to be living solely in their own communities and struggling to integrate, yet still huge numbers are coming in, making assimilation into British and European culture even harder.

I am currently living in Melbourne, and I am often struck with amazement cycling my way through the city about just how many East Asians there are.  It feels like the ratio is almost 50/50, and filling a percentage of this does appear to be a fair amount of Koreans.

Looking at the latest figures I could find, the 2011 census data, the number of Korean-born people in Australia was only about 75 000.  Now this doesn't account for those born in Australia of Korean ancestry, but the number is far far less than say Muslims in the UK.

However, the key issue I am concerned with is integration.  Do Koreans integrate into Australian society?  It is a tricky question to answer with statistics alone, so with that in mind, I am going to give my observations of what I have seen in Melbourne through connections with my wife.

I like to make things absolutely clear for readers, because I have absorbed a fair amount of criticism on this blog, so what I am about to say is an observation, not a statement of fact (and this has always been the case, and was even written into the description of my blog).  I am writing this blog as an observer, not a journalist.  I don't have the time to sift through data or interview community leaders.  These are my opinions based, not solely, but mainly on my own observations.

So, do Koreans integrate?  My answer would be largely, no.  I find they mainly stick to having Korean friends and associations. You will always find examples of people who do, and I think it is obvious to say that the children of Korean immigrants in the past are far more likely to do so, but in general the Koreans I have met don't really integrate into wider Australian society.

What I think you'll find happening more and more in western countries is also that foreign communities will begin to integrate less and less due to the high volumes of their own country men and women coming over.  The reason for this is that in the past, the first immigrants had to associate with wider society in a range of areas; for schooling, services, and friendship.  However today, increasingly all these things can just be comfortably done within their own communities.  For instance, what you'll find in many Muslim dense areas of the UK is that kids go to Islamic schools, you can hire a Muslim plumber, go to a Muslim-owned grocery store, and people only socialise with other Muslims.  They might as well be in their own countries.

The Korean community in Melbourne often works to my benefit, as I find that having access to them through my wife can be very useful.  If I ever want a job done well, I usually hire a Korean.  If I need a taxi to the airport, someone to help move house, a builder, a visa agent, etc, I get my wife to look into the Korean community first.  I usually find them cheaper, quicker, better quality, easier to get a hold of, and generally less bogged-down in bureaucratic procedures.  I am sure they do all these services without the proper government-approved license, but quite frankly, I am glad of that as they are better at what they do as a result.

I am not suggesting that this lack of integration is the fault of Korean people (or indeed Muslims) either, I just think this is a bit of a fact of life that, in reality, happens in most foreign communities.  After all when in Korea, the same occurs with people from English speaking nations, they all hang around together.  The critical thing is, though, does this lack of integration really matter? In the case of Korean people, I think it doesn't.

With very few exceptions, Korean people have cultural values which enable them to be excellent newcomers to Western societies.  They are hard-working, law abiding, and tolerant of and adaptable to the different way of life that they have migrated into. Many even embrace the ability to throw off the shackles of Korean society and just be themselves.  But even if Koreans don't enjoy Western liberalism, individualism, and life in general, they usually just deal with it and get on with their lives without complaint.

Perhaps I am just ignorant of any downsides, but I cannot recall any problems Far-Eastern communities have caused in Western countries.  I just don't hear of any unrest involving Koreans, Chinese, or Japanese.  Individual exceptions again will always crop-up, but they really do seem like rogue individuals, out of sync and unrelated in their behaviour with their wider community.

Contrast this with Muslim communities in many Western countries, especially in Europe. Now I know there is a lot of right-wing media out there cooking-up a storm about this, but at least some of it does appear to be quite valid.

It isn't just the terrorism, in Britain we have had issues with Muslim rape gangs, tens of thousands of cases of Female Genital Mutilation going completely unprosecuted, and death threats to journalists and public figures for, sometimes the most benign acts of freedom of expression against the prophet Mohammed.

Like it or not, there is an extreme side of many inside Muslim communities in the West that not only doesn't integrate, like Koreans, but appears to actually want to defy the laws and customs of the countries they come into and have their own power.  They want their own legal system, their own areas, and seek special privileges (especially the right to not have their religion mocked or prophets depicted).  On top of this, there looks as though there is an issue with members of the Muslim community not speaking-up against truly unsavoury, dangerous extremists who exist within their communities. This is both out of solidarity with them as fellow Muslims and out of fear of violence against them.

From my observations of Koreans and what they say, they don't hold nearly the same fears or feelings of loyalty with fellow Koreans (not to mention their lack of extreme behaviour).  Indeed many of them don't want to make too close friends with other Koreans, as they end up facing the same issues with societal pressure just in a different land.  For this reason, I am sure there are a number of pretty lonely Koreans in Australia, who find it difficult to make friends with non-Koreans, yet also don't wish to get too close with the Korean community either.

I hear a lot of generalisations about immigration, but really we have to be quite specific about it if we want to realistically make multi-culturalism work, if it can work at all.  As I have said many times in this blog, culture matters, and different cultures can throw-up different challenges when it comes to living side by side with each other.  Some cultures, like Korean culture, can be radically different to ours yet in ways that make them easy to be neighbours with, and some can be different in divisive ways that cause trouble.

I think Western culture generally has far more in common with many Islamic cultures than it does with the Far East, but the specific small differences between the West and some Islamic cultures (being general here, I am aware of the many cultures occurring in Islamic countries and indeed the subtle differences in Western countries also), are far more problematic than the big differences between the people of the West and the Far East when it comes to living with each other.

These subtleties are always lost when we talk about immigration.  Phrases like, "diversity is our strength", or, "immigration benefits our country", are far too broad to get to the heart of the matter.  The truth is that sometimes diversity is a good thing and sometimes immigration is of benefit to our countries, and that it very much depends who and where those coming in are from, and in what numbers, as to whether this immigration is of benefit to the economy and society as a whole.  I have yet to ever hear this nuance in any debate on the subject.

The migrant crisis in Europe would be problematic wherever these people were coming from, but I think it is stating the obvious to say that if we had millions of Koreans flooding into Europe right now, we'd have significantly less troubles than if it was millions of Muslims.  Before we can sit down and logically talk about uncomfortable truths such as this, I see no hope for multi-culturalism worldwide, and particularly in Europe, and I do fear for the well-being of my country of birth in the years to come.


  1. Yes and no. If that is even possible...

    I have grown up in two very different communities and cultures, a very Australian community with very little asian presence and at the same time was immersed in the Korean immigrant community through church and parents.

    Being a Korean with immigrant parents (I came over at the age of 5) I call myself very much Australian but so very Korean at the same time.

    How much Koreans integrate into Australian life really depends on their social circles, English skills and comfort zones.

    For those who have little or no contact with the Korean community, I think it is very easy because you are forced to integrate. However, people are attracted to those who are like them - a lot of the times, familiarity and commonalities make it easier to stick with "what you know". So many tend to seek out areas "where the Koreans are".

    The funny and ironic thing is, as much as Koreans in westerns countries detest the pressure of conformance and expectations of others (and being subject to public judgment), they can't help but seek out Koreans - whether friends, services etc - for whatever reason which I don't see as a bad thing.

    I know I certainly have learnt a lot about my culture (warts and all) that I wouldn't have known had I chosen not to associate with other Koreans.

    I think integration doesn't mean you have to disassociate youself from your ethnic heritage or those from the same country as you but you can also be very integrated with Australian society even if you have only Korean friends.

    I certainly know Austtalian-Koreans who have grown up here their whole lives, speak fluent Korean and English, have great careers as working professionals but all their close cirlce of friends and family being ALL Korean.

    I think some of this has to do with their feeling of not "fitting in" and being able to fully relate to white Australians, some never having non-asian friends (yes that can and does happen even if you are born in Australia) and many other reasons which I also cannot completely relate to.

    Just my two cents. Of course there are exceptions as well, there always are.

  2. One thing I didn't mention, my parents. Borh immigrated here in their esrly 30s with no family here.

    My dad is a working professional, not yet retired and has friends that are not Korean. He knows every neighbour on the street and often goes to his friends sons footy games etc with his friends.

    My mum is now retired (was in retail and cosmetics) and only keeps in touch with a couple of her old work friends.

    She is much more "in touch" with the Korean community whereas I think my dad has intentionally distanced himself from it for all the reasons your wife does not want to go to korea.

    You will find Koreans like my parents but others who speak very little to no English but manage to get by by living in areas where there are a lot of Koreans. This is probably the case with many other non-korean immigrant families...

    1. Thanks for your comments, interesting to hear your perspective.

  3. I disagree with a few of your points here, even though I think you are largely agreeing with me:

    "First of all, I think that all this hysteria of Muslim immigrant communities in the West is not entirely justified. Yes, there are extremist organizations that are dangerous, but they could find ways to strike Western capitals even if there wasn't a large Muslim immigrant presence in those countries."

    They could find ways to strike, yes, but the greater populations of Muslims, the more problems. Belgium and France are classic examples of this. The greater the number of Muslims, the more problems the country is having. I agree with you that this is not always the fault of Muslims themselves. Western European countries almost encourage segregation and lack of integration in the way they handle the situation.

    The isolation, wanting their own areas and laws is not a figment of the West's imagination, it is a brute fact. Muslims congregate in certain areas of Britain and stay in their own communities. This fact has been acknowledge by the British government. 40% of British Muslims when polled want some aspect of Sharia Law introduced into Britain (there are already Sharia courts in Britain too).

    The example you gave of the French forcing children of Islamic parents into State schools is a good one, but the same ghettoisation occurs in Britain, where such a policy is not in effect.

    "The truth is that most Muslim immigrants to Europe are in most ways reasonable, they do not expect the whole society around them to become Muslim"

    I don't think any sensible person would say that the majority of Muslims are trouble-makers. In fact, I don't know anyone except knuckle-dragging morons that goes anywhere near close to saying this. My brother in-law is a Bangladeshi Muslim who fits in nicely to British society and doesn't cause problems or really wants to change anything, he is a nice guy, like most Muslims like him. But this misses the point entirely. We are talking proportions, integration, and whether large numbers, especially large numbers in a short period of time, can adjust to British/European society, and also whether Europeans can adjust to them.

    As for your worries about Chinese immigrants, yes perhaps there are some problems with the Chinese occasionally, but you have one example from 2007 in Italy. Do I really need to bring up the plethora of examples of riots, general civil unrest, and terrorist atrocities brought by those professing themselves to be doing it in the name of Islam? And I really can't stand when people talk as if the only problem is terrorism. In the UK, we have not had much terrorism since 7/7, but we have had a steady decline in the ability to speak freely about Islam due to credible threats of violence, rape gangs, the aforementioned Sharia courts, forced marriages of underage girls, and literally tens of thousands of cases of Female genital mutilation. Not all Muslim immigrants practice such things, but we need to face the reality that all of these issues are coming from Muslim communities. I feel like you are looking at this issue through a very narrow lens indeed. These things that I have mentioned here (and that you touched on also) are not minor considerations and bumps in the road, they are real roadblocks and the situation is not improving in Muslim communities in the West, they are getting worse.

  4. France's problems involve Christian African immigrants as well, and they are at some level self-inflicted. Republican France cannot countenance special policies for minorities, and mainstream French society has an attitude that compounds the problem. British society, with its "multicultural" policies, has dealt with immigration much better in my opinion, and plenty of immigrants of all stripes are integrated into society.

    As you yourself have noted, congregating with one's own kind is a general tendency of immigrants everywhere, and not just Muslims. I don't think Muslims do this as much as Chinese people, for instance. Obviously if the number of immigrants arriving within a short period is too large then this will change the nature of the receiving society. But the flow of Muslims to Europe really isn't as huge as it's made out to be. Go and check on the proportion of Muslims in Britain. It's about 4% of the population. The forced marriages of underaged girls and the cases of FGM are true, but they are only problems within the Muslim communities themselves (and as I already noted, FGM is not exactly a Muslim custom). As for criticizing Islam, people do this all the time in the media, unless I am very much mistaken. The only thing that can be dangerous is depicting the prophet Muhamad or making fun of the Koran, and I agree that this is a problem. But in an era of mass communication, he problem will present itself anyway. Salman Rushdie was threatened by the Iranian government, not by Muslims in Britain. On these issues, the secular West has to stand its ground firmly. But perhaps allowing millions of Muslims to experience secular society first-hand might actually help matters? The views of Ayaan Hirsi Ali were a result of her emigration to Europe. If she had remained in Africa, she would never have developed them. It is people like her that will help Islam to reform.

  5. Here's an old post from my blog on the matter:

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