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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Becoming Global Elites Through Transnational Language Learning?: The Case of Korean Early Study Abroad in Singapore

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Since the late 1990s, early study abroad (ESA) in English-speaking countries has been a popular educational strategy for pre-university Korean students to acquire important language skills such as global English, which is imagined to help them prepare for the competition in global educational and occupational market. However, as ESA, commonly known as jogi yuhak, became a prominent educational strategy among Korean middle class Korean, the destination for Korean Study Abroad began to diversify, showing significant increase of Korean Study Abroad in non-Western countries. For instance, Singapore has emerged as a new site for ESA, due to its multilingual environment which facilitates the learning of global language of English as well as additional languages such as Mandarin. What, then, are the implications of such diversification of ESA for the goals of and beliefs about study abroad? This paper aims to answer this question by examining the language learning practices and ideologies for three Korean ESA families in Singapore, based on participant observation and interview data drawn from a 2.5-year ethnographic study.

The parents we studied anticipated that the multilingual competence gained in Singapore, including that of English, Mandarin, and Korean, will lead their children to become truly global elites. For them, Singapore's multilingualism facilitates acquisition of linguistic resources valued in the global market, providing the children with global flexibility and enabling them to freely cross linguistic as well as national boundaries for further success. Yet, they also raised questions about the possibilities of achieving such global and flexible identities as they face various material and social constraints in study abroad. We analyze such investments in language learning in terms of the shifting ways and tensions of how language is conceptualized in the global economy (Heller 2007), particularly how linguistic diversity comes to be understood as measurable value, rather than a socially grounded condition of language use (Urciuoli 2015). Based on this discussion, we consider how the diversification of ESA gets incorporated into discourse of symbolic and cultural capital accumulation despite the opportunities such diversification opens up for greater intercultural understanding.


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