The interaction of Korean sojourners in an American academic context
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This study investigated how Korean graduate students' identities, needs in academia, and lives in both their home country and in the northeast United States shaped their interaction in English and Korean, in and out of the classroom. This is a case study using an ethnographic approach to observe and interview the six Korean graduate students from various academic disciplines in an American university context. The study was conducted during their first semester of studies in various degree programs. Findings of the study indicated that Korean graduate students' academic priorities, technology use in and out of class, limited listening proficiency, and distinctive in and out-group identification influenced their interaction both in English and in Korean. Korean graduate students made academic achievement their main priority, which helped to establish their primary identities as graduate students. Their focus on academic success led them to invest most of time in academic studies and the rest of it in the English skills they needed most for their studies. In addition, technology use, for instance Internet, highly influenced Korean graduate students' interaction both in Korean and in English. Korean graduate students established strong ties among themselves at school through virtual communities in cyberspace, which radically increased interaction in Korean. Other than cyber communities, the school websites and commercial business websites led them to depend on computer-mediated communication in English rather than on verbal interaction. One predominant barrier to verbal interaction in English with native speakers of English was caused from Korean participants' limited listening proficiency. However, their listening proficiency did not uniformly influence their verbal interaction in English. Under business-like situations, they claimed a right to speak and to be understood because of their identity as a customer. However, they avoided verbal interaction with American peers in academic situations due to lack of understanding interlocutors. Furthermore, Korean graduate students showed distinctive in and out-group identification influenced by their academic context and strong in-group favoritism in interaction. Contrary to expectations, they revealed closer relations with some international graduate students from Asia than with Korean undergraduate students and Korean immigrant students. Korean graduate students' interaction was affected by the fact that they were situated in academic contexts. What Korean graduate students needed more for their academic achievement in English were the advanced English skills that apply in CALP (cognitive academic language proficiency). Thus, some suggestions are made for ESL courses and ESL alternative courses to include international graduate students' needs in CALP in syllabi and curriculum. This study is significant in a sense that it distinguished international students in degree programs from immigrant students because social factors affecting them are distinct. In addition, this study might contribute to academic knowledge about Korean graduate students that have drawn little attention in current SLA literature.