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Exploring Korean American Psychosocial Development


***This article is from a APIKC sponsored presentation from the 2013 NASPA Annual Conference.

Attending the NASPA conference is always a highlight of each year for me.  This year I was honored to present the findings of my dissertation at a session entitled, “Exploring Korean American Psychosocial Development,” which was one of the sessions sponsored by the APIKC.  In case you weren’t able to attend my session, I wanted to provide a quick overview of my findings and invite you to share your thoughts with me. 

I conducted this research while completing my Ph.D. at the University of Georgia in 2011-12.  Through conversations with Asian American students at my current institution, Emory University, I developed an interest in Asian American college student experiences.  I discovered a model of Asian American psychosocial development proposed by Kodama, McEwen, Liang and Lee (2002) that suggested that Asian American college students work through the same seven vectors proposed by Chickering and Reisser (1993), although the issues related to each vector are different. Intrigued by this, I did more research and discovered that no one had attempted to validate this model since its publication.  I also felt that it would be more helpful to examine the experiences of one ethnic group of Asian Americans rather than a cross section of many ethnicities.  Due to the large population of Korean Americans enrolled at Emory, I decided to focus on this group for my study.

I conducted two interviews each with six Korean American students.   The participants were split evenly by gender with three men and three women, while four were second-generation students and two were 1.5-generation students.  Overall, data collected during the interviews generally supported the model.  Participants described their experiences as bicultural and often torn between the values of family and White American society.  Their stories also reflected that their purpose (as students and pre-professionals) was central to their identity at this stage of their lives.  As Kodama et al (2002) proposed, participants generally showed emotional restraint and were learning to identify and express their emotions (although somewhat surprisingly, the male participants expressed more emotion than the female participants did).  While Kodama et al (2002) suggested that Asian American students’ journey might be better described as moving from interdependence to independence and autonomy, the participants’ stories did not indicate much movement away from interdependence with their families at this time.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the study concerned the participants’ relationship with Korean international students.  All participants discussed how distant they felt from Korean international students due to differences in language skills, cultural issues related to displays of respect, and finances.  Participants also comments about tension and conflict in their relationship with their parents.  From these findings, I developed a visual model to reflect how differences in age and culture could be represented to reflect this conflict.

The study was fascinating to conduct and interpret.  My hope is to replicate this study with Chinese American and American Indian student populations at Emory, in order to see how Kodama et al’s (2002) model fits their experiences and also to compare and contrast differences among Asian American cultures and student experiences.  The PowerPoint of this presentation (containing much more detail) is available for download on the NASPA website in the member area.  I welcome your thoughts and comments about this work.  My hope is to share this information widely to help professionals who work with Asian American students to better understand and support their experiences on campuses.  Please feel free to contact me at  Thank you!

PowerPoint Presentation: NASPA 13 Exploring Korean American Psychosocial Development v2

Written and presented by Frank Gaertner, PhD., Director of Clairmont CampusResidence Life & Housing, Emory University (

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