Flickr / wanderingseoul61
Parents will sacrifice a lot to give their children a good education, but some South Korean parents are sacrificing too much. More than 40,000 South Korean schoolchildren are believed to be living outside their own country in English-speaking countries, with their mothers, while their fathers remain at home, in some cases visiting their family only once or twice a year. They are known in South Korea as “wild geese” families.

The parents want to give their children a competitive edge at home by helping them become fluent in English while sparing them, and themselves, the stress of South Korea’s notorious pressure cooker education system. But it is being done at the expense of family life, often when the children are still young.

A report from New Zealand published in the New York Times says there were 6579 South Koreans in the country’s primary and secondary schools last year — 38 per cent of all foreign students. An 11-year-old, Ellin, asked whether she missed her father, said: “I don’t miss him that much. I see him every year.” When her mother asks in surprise whether that is enough, the girl corrects herself and says she sees him twice a year. This makes him a “penguin father”, compared with more frequent visitors known as “eagle fathers”.

Whether penguins or eagles these fathers lead a lonely life, many living in an “officetel”, a building with small units that can be used as apartments or offices. They face temptations to marital infidelity, drinking and other bad habits. South Korea's president, Lee Myung-bak, said recently he would address the problem by hiring 10,000 English teachers. Ellin's father, who reluctantly agreed with his wife’s decision to take their two children to New Zealand, told the Times, “I’m alone, I miss my family. Families should live together.” ~ New York Times, June 8 

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet