Described by scholars as the relocation of diasporic descendants to an ancestral homeland from which they have resided away for most if not all of their formative lives, ethnic return migration has increasingly served as the foundation for the scholarly expansion of research on diaspora, transnationalism, nationhood, and ethnicity. I situate this dissertation within this growing body of literature by focusing on the life histories and migratory narratives of US-raised Korean ethnic return migrants (or ‘returnees’). The ethnic return migration of US-raised Koreans serves as a compelling case study for a few reasons. For one, US-raised Koreans represent a substantial portion of the returnee population in South Korea, trailing only Korean Chinese (or joseonjeok) in sheer numbers. What differentiates the ethnic return migration of US-raised Koreans from other diasporic Koreans, however, is that they relocate largely as highly educated, middle-class professionals, thus arriving in South Korea with relatively elevated levels of human capital and socioeconomic privilege. Furthermore, their decisions to relocate to an unfamiliar ancestral homeland stand at odds with social scientific research documenting the economic and cultural assimilation of later-generation Asian Americans. Drawing on data collected from ethnographic fieldwork and in-depth qualitative interviews with Korean American ‘returnees’ living in South Korea, this dissertation addresses the following questions: 1) what factors contribute to the ethnic return migration of diasporic descendants, especially among US-raised Koreans? And 2) given the weak ties that ethnic return migrants typically have with their ancestral homelands, how do these ‘returnees’ fare in their new environments? In examining these larger questions, each chapter of this dissertation endeavors to explain how the practice of ethnic return migration is intricately connected to and influenced by social factors such as race/ethnicity, gender, identity, globalization, and Empire. Taken as a whole, this project provides a nuanced and intersectional take on the practice of ethnic return migration—illustrating how a seemingly personal practice is deeply informed by and informant of larger social forces that span across multiple geographic and temporal contexts.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2016. Major: Sociology. Advisor: Lisa Park. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 266 pages.
Nostalgic for the Unfamiliar: US-Raised Koreans and the Complexities of ‘Return’.
Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy,
Content distributed via the University of Minnesota's Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor.