Tensions of Local and Global: South Korean Students Navigating and Maximizing US College Life


  • Yu-Kyung Kang University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign




internationalization, linguistic diversity, US higher education, study abroad, student organization


For over a decade, a particular transnational educational migration trend in Korea, known as jogi yuhak or “Early Study Abroad,” has been sending thousands of pre-college students to various parts of the globe (e.g. U.S., Canada, Australia, Singapore) with hopes that young Koreans will acquire “native-like” English and become “global elites.” Many of these students then enter U.S. universities that are built upon liberal ideals of diversity and individualism in theory, but offer in practice an indifferent climate towards racial and linguistic difference. Drawing on a two-year ethnographic study of Korean undergraduate students at the University of Illinois, the U.S. public higher education institution with the largest number of international students, the author examines interviews, observations and artifacts collected from the Korean Student Association (KSA), a registered student organization with over 100 staff members mostly with jogi yuhak experience. As the global university offers a rather unfavorable academic climate for racially and linguistically diverse students as well as heightens the failures of literacy as a way to “global elite.” It is in this context that KSA members work to build, reestablish, and preserve their identities and create conditions of respect through practices of localization: The students foster their “Koreanness” not only through Korean language use but also through institutionally rebuilding Korean social practices and networks strained by their many years abroad. Students are able to negotiate their liberal, or rather neoliberal college dreams in seemingly Korean ways of language and literacy that ultimately help them ground their identity as U.S. college students. 

Author Biography

Yu-Kyung Kang, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Yu-Kyung, born in Seoul and raised in Daegu, South Korea, has a BA in Fashion and an MA in International Studies with a focus on International Business. After working in marketing at a major Korean IT company for a couple of years, she changed her career route to follow a long-desired career in teaching English. Upon receiving a Certificate in TESOL from Sookmyung Women’s University, she came to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to pursue an MA in Teaching of English as a Second Language and, with an interest in Second Language writing/literacy, ventured into a PhD program in Writing Studies. Her dissertation project explores the literacy and rhetorical practices of Korean undergraduate students with study abroad experience before matriculating into the university. Yu-Kyung is currently the coordinator and instructor for the International Student Integration and Academic Support program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and is active in campus-wide events and programs in promoting services and support for international students at the university.  



How to Cite

Kang, Y.-K. (2015). Tensions of Local and Global: South Korean Students Navigating and Maximizing US College Life. Literacy in Composition Studies, 3(3), 86-109. https://doi.org/10.21623/