By‘ Joung Hwa Koo,’ Doctoral Candidate,’ School of Library & Information Studies,’ College of Communication & Information,’ Florida State University
Peers are important to adolescents. This research explores South Korean immigrant adolescents’ information seeking in the period of transition before new peer groups are established. In the pilot study described here, South Korean immigrant adolescents between the ages of 10 and 20 who had arrived in the United States within the past two years were contacted and asked to participate. Respondents were administered three research instruments in order to determine their level of isolation. Subjects whose scores satisfied the criteria of isolation were invited to participate in interviews about their information world and practices.
Findings indicate that isolated South Korean immigrant adolescents’ main information issues and needs are: (1) to do well academically in order to achieve GPAs and SAT scores that will enable them to attend desired universities; and (2) to make very close friends and develop a social life. In terms of information sources, isolated immigrant adolescents seek information through their parents (especially mothers), regarding them as the most reliable information source available to them, even though they are not satisfied with the information that their parents supply. Related theories and concepts are discussed to show that among South Korean immigrant youth, the two major features of their information practices are passive information seeking and a strong attachment to their mothers.
A salient social feature of teenagers–a strong dependence on peers and their relative lack of dependence on the adult world–is natural and an important phenomenon that contributes to the completion of age-appropriate developmental tasks. Research in the field of Library and Information Studies (LIS) discloses that teens regard their peers as their favorite and most valuable information source from which to acquire necessary information.1
However, for many reasons, adolescents can find themselves isolated from peers. For example, new immigrant adolescents in the U.S. may experience difficulties in joining established peer groups. This can result in a transitional period in which a peer social group is unavailable to them. When this happens, how do they compensate for this lost but significant information source? How do they seek information needed to cope with their daily lives?
To answer the above questions, a pilot study was undertaken to explore South Korean immigrant adolescents’ everyday life information seeking with particular interest in the period of transition before new peer groups are established. The research provides a preliminary understanding of isolated adolescents’ information worlds by describing their information environments and information seeking behavior: what their daily life is like, how they cope with problems, and how they apply information to both. Three scales were used to measure potential participants’ degree of isolation in order to ensure that only subjects experiencing isolation were invited to participate in the study. This article describes the participants’ information worlds within the constraints of social isolation and relates findings to relevant theories in LIS.
As a pilot study, this investigation also tests the feasibility of the research procedures used and informs a larger study exploring the salient features of immigrant youths’ information behavior. Therefore, it will provide a preliminary understanding of isolated adolescents’ information worlds by depicting young South Korean immigrants’ information needs, and how they seek and use information. Fundamentally, this study will inform librarians, educators, and others who plan information services and instruction for youth groups by giving them a basic knowledge of the adolescent immigrants’ information worlds.‘
BACKGROUND & LITERATURE REVIEW
Adolescence is considered as a transitional period between childhood and adulthood in one’s life span. Developmental psychologists have divided this life stage into three phases: early adolescence (10-15 years of age), traditional or mid-adolescence (15-18 years), and late adolescence or youth (19-22 years).’ 2 However, it is difficult to define the exact age range of adolescence, not only because this life stage is the middle of a developmental continuum but also because individuals master developmental tasks at different rates. Also, this developmental period may vary due to the influence of social milieus and cultural contexts. 3 Thus, World Health Organization (WHO) roughly defines adolescence as the life stage between 10 and 20 years of age in line with current children’s earlier puberty and rapid physical maturation.4‘ Therefore, in this research, the term “adolescent” is broadly defined as people between 10 to 20 years of age.
While adolescence is seen as a stage, it is not conceptualized as a chronological period or static temporal zone between childhood and adulthood, but rather as a “growing and developmental” transition that possesses unique physical, cognitive, and socio-affective characteristics.5 Physically, adolescents start puberty and become sexually mature, typically between ages 10 and 14 for girls and ages 12 and 16 for boys. But the speed and degree of physical maturity affects their peer relationships. Perkins notes, “Adolescents who mature at a slower or faster rate than others will be dropped from one peer group and generally will enter a peer group of similar maturity.”6 Cognitively, adolescents start acquiring the ability to think abstractly, reason logically, draw conclusions from the information available, and begin to understand metaphorical expressions, such as love, logical proofs, and value.7 Thus, adolescents begin a struggle to discover their identity, the meaning of self, and where their future lies. Questions such as “What kind of a person am I?” “How do others perceive me?” and “What will I do in the future?” are common.8 However, the similarities in the level of cognitive development or academic achievement strongly affect their relationships with peers.9 Socio-affectively adolescents seek to create a stable identity within their society. Adolescents, seeking autonomy from their parents, turn to their peers to solve their socio-affective needs and problems like doubts or daily trivial tasks.10 Through relationships with peers, adolescents develop social skills (such as how to get along with others), develop prototypes for adult relationships, experience autonomy (acting outside of the control of adults and parents), and witness the strategies others use to cope with similar problems.11
In line with the above features of adolescence, the most important influences in the composition of peer groups are physical, cognitive, and socio-affective “similarity.”12> The term peer already captures the meaning of a small group of “similarly” aged, fairly close friends, sharing the “same” activities.13 The issue of similarity offers not only positive impacts like deep intimacy and psychological stability within the same cliques, but also negative results like bullying or alienation caused by “difference.” In that sense, new immigrant adolescents’ search for intimacy based on similarity seems to negatively affect their inclusion in peer groups. For this reason, immigrant adolescents are vulnerable more frequently and seriously than the general adolescent population. Immigrant adolescents’ unique characteristics–based on different ethnic and social backgrounds–can result in isolation or bullying rather than recognition of their uniqueness and valuable assets.
Studies of immigrant adolescents extend beyond the general domain of Developmental Psychology and have been conducted in the areas of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Multicultural School Psychology, and Racial and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Scholars in these areas have focused on research questions related to immigrant children’s adjustment in new environments, such as: “How is the process of assimilation different for immigrants?” “How do immigrant family dynamics change after migration?” “What do we know about immigrant families and how they can contribute to their children’s education and development?” “How are immigrant adolescents forming their identities?” “How do culture, gender, and socioeconomic background impact immigrant adolescents’ educational adaptation and development?” and “How can we build programs that can promote immigrant youths’ positive development?”14 In sum, the main concepts used in these studies are “assimilation,” “acculturation,” “adoption,” and “multicultural identity.” In the area of adolescent mental health, studies have focused on immigrant adolescents’ severe stressors and coping patterns, abnormal behaviors in new environments, and mental health programs.15
Considering the key issues from previous studies, it appears that immigrant adolescents face double burdens in that they must master developmental tasks like other adolescents as well as adjust to new environments and cultures. Their double struggle to seek their identity and solve daily life issues in new and unfamiliar surroundings may require different information sources and seeking patterns. Under this basic assumption, the study focuses on describing South Korean immigrant adolescents’ unique features in their information seeking.
Immigrant Adolescents’ ELIS
ELIS Model and Related Studies
Though students, scholars, and professionals continue to be the focus of interest for much of the information behavior research, recent studies have looked at ordinary people, minors, and minority groups like immigrants.16 This gradual transition from targeted user groups to the general public has led to changes in the methodological approaches and perspectives used to interpret phenomena related to information behavior. In this research milieu, the Everyday Life Information Seeking (ELIS) model was developed by Savolainen in the mid-1990s.17 Savolainen interprets information as “being constructed through involvement in life’s activities, problems, tasks, and social and technological structures, as opposed to being independent and context free.”18 The ELIS model was initiated by the need “to elaborate the role of social and cultural factors that affect people’s way of preferring and using information sources in everyday settings.” 19 Therefore, ELIS enables us to appreciate information behavior as part of the holistic human communication process mixing cognitive, social, cultural, organizational, and affective factors.20 Because of its use in exploring the information world of normal laymen or socio-affectively marginalized groups like immigrant children, ELIS is a suitable lens to comprehend immigrant adolescents’ daily life hassles or their information world.
In this article, the concept of ELIS is used in its broadest sense to include “informal” information seeking (or non-seeking/avoiding) in daily life contexts or the social perspectives rather than the limited concepts and components of the initial ELIS model suggested by Savolainen.21 Therefore, the term ELIS used in this study refers to informal information behaviors in social perspectives, as has been suggested in other scholarly work such as Fisher’s Information Grounds,22 Chatman’s Information Poverty,23 Chatman’s Life in the Round,24and Williamson’s Ecological Model of Information Use.25
‘ Studies of Adolescents and Immigrants’ ELIS
Most studies of children’s information behavior have been performed in the school setting with the purpose of learning activities or for school library services. However, some studies of youth information behavior have examined the ELIS needs of young people. For example, Julien used Dervin’s Sense-Making to investigate female high school seniors’ information behavior in decision-making for their future careers.26 Julien described adolescents’ information seeking as a help-seeking process and demonstrated that female high school seniors do not know where to go for help in their decision-making. The study demonstrated that the trustworthiness of information sources is critical to the usefulness of the help received and suggests that information providers improve information delivery for adolescents by taking these findings into account.
Todd and Edwards conducted a study of adolescents’ information seeking of drug information.27 Within the framework of Chatman’s theory of Information Poverty, the research was initiated to examine the gap between information seeking and information use. The study concluded that adolescents actually live in an information-poor world devoid of sources that address their concerns about drugs, which are deeply embedded in peer groups’ social norms and developmental tasks. The major goal of this study was to discover the characteristics of information that adolescents desire, finding that teens prefer “contextualized and personal information that is also viewed by them as credible, rather than lists of salient facts presented in a bland and objective way, that answer their probing, inquiring questions and enable them to build an intimate and shareable knowledge about drugs.”28
Agosto and Hughes-Hassell29 and Hughes-Hassell and Agosto30 explored urban teens’ ELIS and proposed two models: a theoretical model of urban teen development, and an experimental model of urban teen’s ELIS. They described ELIS as “facilitating the multifaceted teen-to-adult maturation process.”31 The studies revealed that urban teens engage in ELIS to satisfy their developmental tasks and needs, such as formulating their self-identity or navigating social norms.
Fisher, Marcoux, Meyer, and Landry32explored tweens’ ELIS using qualitative methods. Because tweens see trust as a social cost and an important factor in selecting information sources, the study suggested that it is important to know how early adolescents interpret the value of the information sources they select. The researchers found that “tweens differentiate between the sorts of questions and information asked of peers and those asked of adults, that the curiosity-fuelled drive toward information seeking that is characteristic of this age group was tempered by peer pressure, and that adults frequently give children information they either do not want or regard as incorrect.”33
Among the few studies of immigrant children’s ELIS,34 Chu studied immigrant children’s information literacy and their role as information mediators for supplying information to their family within the context of daily life.35 The study discovered a unique phenomenon in immigrant families: immigrant children act as mediators with teachers, employers, and others to interpret, translate, and locate information to facilitate the demands of their new life for their family’s elders. Chu suggested strategies to extend the information services of libraries, using Immigrant Children Mediators (ICM) to bridge the literacy gap between immigrant family and their community.
Even though the main targeted populations were not adolescents, there are some earlier studies in LIS that explored immigrants’ information worlds and which inform the current study. Courtright examined health information seeking behaviors among Latin American newcomers using the framework of social networks, and perceptions and uses of institutions and organizations.36 She found that due to barriers to accessing formal information systems, such as unfamiliarity with the local health care system and insufficient English skills, immigrants usually use interpersonal social networks to access information. Courtright pointed out that the result of information poverty is that Latino newcomers use incredibly low-quality information via interpersonal social networks, and suggested alternative information services for this group.
Fisher, Durrance, and Hinton investigated how immigrants and their families benefit from programs in literacy and coping skills run by the Queens Borough Public Library in New York.37 One interesting finding was that immigrants’ first need is not information about jobs, resettlement, or health, but a need to feel secure and welcomed. These demands relate to socio-affective securities and a sense of belonging; they foster desires to meet people who are experiencing similar circumstances, to befriend others, and to feel part of a new and larger community. This research provides important insight regarding what immigrants’ essential needs are, and how future researchers can conduct research to explore immigrants’ ELIS.
In another study of immigrants’ information behavior, Fisher et al.38 investigated the information grounds of migrant Hispanic farm workers through field observations and interviews. Their study revealed that Hispanic migrants emphasize interpersonal sources such as church, school, and the workplace, and prefer to obtain information face-to-face. The study described how immigrants’ dependence on interpersonal networks for seeking information results in information poverty.
The population of interest in this study is South Korean immigrant adolescents who are: (1) between 10 to 20 years of age and (2) who have arrived in the United States within the previous two years. Because new immigrant adolescent populations are both hard to reach and potentially hard to identify, purposive sampling and snowballing sampling were used.39 To find representative subjects, Korean immigrant teens at a local Korean church were recruited to participate in the study. Each potential participant’s level of isolation was measured using the three scales described below.
Three Scales–Measures of Social Isolation
The three instruments used to measure adolescents’ isolation were the Dejong Giervard Loneliness Scale, the Social Support Questionnaire (SSQ), and the Social Competence Scale. All of the scales were translated into Korean to avoid potential misunderstandings of the questions due to language differences.40> The researcher read the questionnaires in Korean and recorded participants’ responses in Korean as well.
(1) The De Jong Giervard Loneliness Scale41: This scale was developed as a self-report instrument to assist with the diagnosis of loneliness and to provide a means of quantifying the severity of the loneliness. There are two components of loneliness in the scale: emotional loneliness and social loneliness. “Emotional loneliness is stemming from the absence of an intimate relationship or close emotional attachment (e.g., partner or best friends), and social loneliness is stemming from absence of a broader group of contacts or network (e.g., colleagues, neighbors).”42People with scores above 6 are regarded as highly isolated people.
(2) SSQ43: The SSQ was developed to measure the functions of social networks. Each question asks about people in the respondents’ environment, who provides them with help or support, and how satisfied they are overall. A low score means that they are socially isolated; people with scores below 4 in support and below 3 in satisfaction are regarded as highly isolated people.
(3) Walker-McConnell developed the “Walker-McConnell Scale for Social Competence and School Adjustment.”44This scale was used in this study in order to rule out subjects whose social isolation was originally caused by their personalities or dispositional problems in social skills, regardless of their environment. Thus, the scale was used to determine whether potential subjects have the basic skills to socialize with people in the school settings. The possible score ranges are highly functioned (160-120), average (120-90), at-risk (90-50), and high-risk (50-32).
Scales Results Degrees of Social Loneliness
The results of testing revealed that three of the subjects recruited for the study suffered from low social support and high social isolation/loneliness, yet their personal social competence skills to adjust to the school environment and to make friends were high. This indicates that their socialization skills are well-developed but are not being used in their new social context. Therefore, the researcher regarded these three South Korean immigrant adolescents as appropriate subjects for the research and selected them for further in-depth interviews.
Table 1. Results of the Three Surveys
|Min. 0: not lonely,Max. 11: extremely lonely> 6: highly isolated and lonely4-6: isolated and lonely
|Max. 9: high supportMin. 0: low support< 4: low support and high loneliness
(Satisfaction of the support
Max. 6, < 3: high dissatisfaction)
|160-120: highly functional120-90: average (100)90-50: at-risk
* The names are fictitious to protect against disclosure of the subjects’ identities.
Data Collection and Analysis
To gather data from the selected subjects, the researcher conducted in-depth interviews using a semi-structured interview schedule to guide the interview process. The main categories of questions focused on: (1) demographic information and the journey of immigration; (2) the meaning of information; (3) current life problems and information needs; (4) information sources and channels; and (5) evaluation of used information sources and channels. To ensure reliability, questions were repeated in different expressions to check for consistency in the responses. The interviews were conducted one-on-one in Korean and were audio recorded. Each interview was held at the participant’s home and took approximately three hours to complete.
The interview data were transcribed in Korean, and then translated into English. Transcribed texts in English were coded and categorized using the constant comparative method. Comparisons between the three transcripts were also made. Analysis resulted in the identification of five key themes.
This study methodology has several limitations. First, there is the problem of generalizability which is always associated with qualitative methods. However, the purpose of this qualitative research is not to be able to generalize to a larger population, but rather to obtain a deep understanding of the particular behavioral and social activities of this special group. Therefore, the small sample size is reasonable, allowing for the collection of in-depth data that describes these South Korean adolescent immigrants’ information worlds deeply.
Second, the potential for researcher bias must be considered. Bias may occur during the process of organizing and interpreting the interview transcripts and in applying theoretical frameworks. It is possible to interpret the interviewees’ narratives according to the researcher’s own lens rather than through the eyes of the interviewees. To guard against such possibilities, in thinking about the data, the researcher engaged in continuous self-evaluation and continuously referred to various theories and references related to adolescents with multicultural backgrounds.
Finally, there is the question of the honesty of the respondents and researcher’s confidence in their ability to be candid. The researcher worked to develop rapport with each participant and emphasized the promise of the interviewees’ privacy and confidence through the consent and assent process and before the interview began. All information provided by participants remains confidential and no potentially identifying information is included in this report. Fictitious names are used by the researcher to protect subject identities.
General Features: Demographic Information and Immigration Journey
As shown in Table 2, all of the subjects are Korean male adolescents between the ages of 14 and 16. With the exception of Philip, who was born in the U.S. and currently lives there with his family, the other subjects are resident aliens and reside in the U.S. without their family members. While all of the young men speak English, Korean is their native language. All three young men regard their social economic status as between middle and upper class; all of their parents are college-educated and have professional jobs.
Journey of Immigration
Philip’s story: Philip was born in the U.S. while his father was studying at a graduate school in Ames, Iowa. Four years later, after his father had earned a Ph.D. degree, his family returned to South Korea and Philip grew up in a small urban town near the capital. To provide the best educational environment for Philip and his younger brother–specifically to protect them from the negative impact of the intense academic competition found in South Korean high schools and to provide them with an alternative and holistic learning experience–his parents decided to immigrate to the U.S. Philip’s father resigned his job as a high-ranking government officer in his home country and is studying in graduate school once again. His family has lived in the United States for about two years.
Ethan’s story: Ethan came to the United States in order to avoid the extreme competition found in high schools in South Korea. Ethan’s family believes a quality education in the States will allow him to enter a good university in South Korea or an Ivy League school in the U.S. With the assistance of a Korean academic broker that connected him with private high schools and ESL programs in the U.S., Ethan moved without his family to a small town in the Midwestern United States where he studied for one year. Recently, he transferred to a more prestigious private high school in the southeastern region of the U.S. After graduating from a “good” university, he wants to attend a graduate school with an MBA program. Currently Ethan lives with his legal guardian and the guardian’s family as arranged by an academic broker.
David’s story: David also came to the U.S. to receive the benefits of the U.S. educational system. Like Ethan, he originally arrived in the Midwest and after one year, he too moved to the southeastern region of the U.S. to attend a more prestigious private high school. He lives with his American legal guardian’s family as arranged by an academic broker in Korea.
Table 2. Personal Information of Three Subjects
|Age||16 years old||16 years old||14 years old|
|Grade||11th grade||11th grade||‘ 8th grade|
|Citizenship||Resident Alien||Resident Alien||U.S. Citizen|
|Journey of Migration||Busan, South Korea (Hometown)â†’Midwestern regionâ†’Southeastern region of the U.S.||Seoul, South Korea (Hometown)â†’Midwestern regionâ†’Southeastern region of the U.S.||Ames, IA (Hometown)â†’’ Gunpo, South Koreaâ†’Southeastern region of the U.S.|
|Family Status||David lives with his guardian family; his family members–parents and an elder sister–live in their home country, South Korea.||Ethan lives with his guardian family member; his family members–parents and two siblings–live in their home country, South Korea.||Philip has moved and lives with all his family members–parents and a younger brother–in a southeast region of the U.S.|
|Socio-Economic Status||Between middle and upper class||Between middle and upper class||Between middle and upper class|
|Parents’ Job||Physician (father); Housewife (mother)||CEO in their own company (father); Housewife (mother)||Doctoral student/ Lecturer (father);Housewife (mother)|
|Parents’Education||Graduated from higher education (B.A.; B.A.)||Graduated from higher education (B.A.; B.A.)||Graduated from higher education (Ph.D.; B.A.)|
|Purpose of Immigration||Alternative and better education; to enter a good college||Alternative and better education; to enter a good college||Alternative and better education; to enter a good college|
|Duration of Time in the U.S.||1 year and 2 months||1 year and 4 months||2 years|
New South Korean Immigrant Adolescents’ Information World
Current Issues and Information Needs
The subjects’ current ELIS information needs fall into two categories: (1) how to study in English and perform well enough to achieve a high GPA and earn high SAT scores; and (2) how to make real and close friends. Their ELIS issues represent two basic needs. The first represents a cognitive need. They want to do well in high school in order to earn a place at a good university; this is their original purpose for immigrating to the U.S. The second is a socio-affective need. They have a strong desire to connect with their peers, to make close friends, and to socialize with them.
ELIS Need 1: How to study in English and perform well enough to achieve a high GPA and earn high SAT scores
These young men do not believe they have any barriers which affect their ability to communicate with their classmates in English. They are accustomed to communicating in English, and judge themselves to be fluent or semi-fluent English speakers. In addition, they do not function as ICMs (Immigrant Children Mediators), which many immigrant children experience because of their parents’ English-language limitations.45 Their parents and legal guardians have fluent English communication skills. Nevertheless, their first ELIS concern is to achieve their original purpose of immigration–to improve their English skills, achieve a good GPA, earn high SAT scores, and then go on to a good university:
“I plan to take the test the SAT in December. I feel a little nervous about that. But compared to the degree and tension of the stress that I experienced in South Korea for the studies and exams, the current pressure is much weaker. But the main reason that I came to the U.S. is for this. So I am still worried about earning SAT scores to enter a good university.” (Ethan).
“The basic strategy to earn high SAT scores is to improve English. But there is no strategic way and shortcut to improve English. So I just do it by myself.” (David)
“The study should be done independently.” (Philip)
ELIS Need 2: How to make real and close friends
These three young men are concerned about making close friends. While they think they have many acquaintances at school, none of them believe they have any “close” and “real” friends. They feel lonely and want to develop American friends who will invite them to belong to their cliques or clubs.
“Almost all classmates are very kind to me, but I don’t think they all are my friends. It seems that in their words and smile, truth lacks. I just say hello to everyone actively, but they have something different with Korean friends. I cannot explain what the difference is and what the reasons are, but it is certain that there are invisible and unspoken walls with American classmates.” (David)
“Sometimes classmates act very kindly, but suddenly they ignore me. When we played basketball, I committed some fouls. They treated me very harshly and yelled at me, “Asian! Asian!” instead of calling my name. It hurt me. Whenever I experience similar things, I feel deeply lonely. But I have nothing to manage the feelings.” (Ethan)
Information Sources and Channels
These young men regard information as anything that helps them make a decision, from a map to previous experiences that help guide their new lives and their acculturation into American society.
“Information may be any knowledge or map. If we go into a new wonderland and do not have any information about that, we might not behave normally because we have no idea about the customs of the land. If we have information, we can act rightly in the wonderland or new world.” (Ethan)
“Computer data? As soon as I heard the term of information, it reminded me of the digits 0101010101. It is like computer data. [Or] it seems anything to help acting and living.” (David)
They view their parents in South Korea and their teachers in the U.S. as the most trustworthy information sources. Instead of looking to peers or friends to help them solve problems related to school or to daily life, they choose to talk with their parents and teachers.
All of these young men view their parents, especially their mothers, as the most helpful and trustworthy source of information when they are in trouble. Though David and Ethan live far away from their parents, they frequently ask for advice on all kinds of daily problems via the telephone. If the topics they seek are too sensitive to share with their mothers, such as questions about girlfriends or puberty, they do not talk with or take counsel with anyone.
“I think I am a blessed man because my parents, especially my mom, are nice people. So I have little experience of rebellion against my parents. Sometimes I feel the gap of generation when we go shopping to choose clothes or when they urge me to eat insipid healthy foods. But I understand such nagging because all of their statements are for me and finally the only person I can trust in the world is my parents.” (Ethan)
“Even though I dislike my mom’s nagging about my activities and her interrupting my life, I finally seek mom and ask information and advice about my daily life problems.” (Philip)
When they have specific questions about their studies, they either ask their parents or the teachers and counselors at their schools. They report feeling more comfortable talking with their teachers about homework and tests than with peers. They believe their teachers help them willingly, and report having no affective or cultural barriers in accessing teachers and counselors.
“Also, I get information from mom about school works.” (Ethan)
“Because almost all teachers are very kind, I often ask teachers about homework or unclear problems.” (Philip)
Regarding their socio-affective needs, the young men do not seem to seek information sources to help them. Instead, they are convinced that nothing can help them make friends and friendship cannot be earned by human effort or intention. In order to release their stress and overcome their loneliness, they usually engage in hobbies, such as playing the guitar and computer games, or just do their homework.
“I usually have hanged [sic] out with friends to release stress in South Korea. But because in the U.S. there are no friends to talk with about my personal issues, I usually lie in bed and stay alone for hours. I trust my parents but I could not talk to them about my stress or fatigue. I just talk with [my parents] about financial needs or daily problems at school. About my mental or emotional burden or emptiness, I don’t talk with mom.” (David)
“I do not seek friends to share my inner heart, actually. I feel a big difference and gap in the way of thinking of American friends. Whenever I meet [American] classmates, I feel a kind of pressure to show them I must be a cool guy. Thus, I do not meet friends to release the stress. I want to make friends and share my thoughts but I just stay at home.” (Ethan)
“I just do computer games during one or two hours whenever I feel lonely and bored. If so, mom always nags about that. Because of it, we frequently quarrel.” (Philip)
For daily questions, miscellaneous issues, or to satisfy a sudden curiosity, they search Internet sites like Google and Naver, a popular Korean Internet portal site. They never think of the library as an information source to help them with their decision-making or school activities but as a kind of place for studying silently. Librarians are regarded as book deliverers and keepers. In these isolated immigrant adolescents’ information worlds, the library is not an information mediator to satisfy their current information needs.
Satisfaction with Information Sources
In fulfilling their cognitive needs or answering questions related to schoolwork, each of the subjects demonstrated satisfaction with the information sources–parents and teachers–they usually use and seek. However, they did not express the same satisfaction with the sources they turned to for their socio-affective needs. Their passive coping strategies for overcoming their severe loneliness and isolation–playing the guitar, self-talking, or staying home–could not solve their current problems.
“The only person I can trust is mom. But if I ask mom any advice about human relationships, mom starts nagging me instead of consoling me. So I just write down my thoughts in blogs or paper, play the guitar, and play computer games. After I play the guitar for two or three hours, I feel better temporally, but the problems do still remain. I think it is not the best way, but I don’t have another option either.” (David)
“For the information regarding the SAT, I seek information through my host because he is a high school teacher and has experiences sending his daughter and son to good universities. I trust almost that about 90% of his information is true and precise. But regarding puberty, sexual desire, or my girlfriend, I cannot say to mom or host at all. Whenever the issues are reminded of me, I try to forget them by studying very hard.” (Ethan)
Unique Features of South Korean Immigrant Adolescents’ Information Seeking
Attachment to Parents: Psychological Regress vs. Cultural Attributes
The most consistent feature of prior adolescent information behavior research has been the information source they most frequently use and trust: their peers. But the information source that these South Korean isolated immigrant adolescents seek most frequently is their parents, especially their mothers. Even though their physical, cognitive, and affective development appears to be normal, all of the subjects seem to be regressively dependent on their parents and to show a temporal abnormal behavior in their strong emotional attachment to their mothers. It may be possible to interpret the phenomenon of their attachment to mother and family in two dimensions: psychological and socio-cultural.
In terms of the psychological dimension, these young immigrant adolescents’ strong dependence on their mothers bears a similarity to symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). RAD is a kind of disturbance of social interaction caused by the neglect of a child’s basic physical and emotional needs, particularly during infancy. For instance, a child placed in an orphanage at birth and raised by multiple caretakers without primary parent-figures can develop RAD. The child’s excessive attachment to the mother or guardians can also result from a mother leaving her babies in public nursery rooms or neglecting their need for physical safety and emotional bonds.46 The subjects in this study were not assessed for RAD and the diagnosis of psychological disorders is outside the scope of the study reported here. This may be a topic for further research in developmental psychology.
Attachment to their mothers is related to the feeling of security, one of the most basic human needs.47 In general, when students transfer to new schools or environments, there is a tendency for temporal developmental regression such as excessive attachment to their mothers rather than seeking autonomy or independence.48 For the immigrant adolescents who participated in this study, daily life is totally different from that of their home country, even though school activities appear similar. The basic daily work that they could perform independently and easily in their home country–going to school, making close friends, and being involved in school activities–became life problems and burdens that they cannot overcome without parental assistance and support in the new country. Their current isolated and stressful environments make them feel that their physical and emotional security is jeopardized. In addition, they are living without parents in the new environment, which exposes them to feelings of vulnerability. While Maslow’s theory of hierarchy of needs in his Theory of Human Motivation49is not deeply analyzed here, he notes that people cannot seek higher level needs such as autonomy or independence before the basic needs–such belonging and security–are satisfied. Insecurity and lack of social confidence may be partly why these students turn to parents instead of peers even though reaching out to peers might reduce their sense of isolation.
In terms of the socio-cultural dimension, it is possible to interpret the phenomenon of dependence on parents as a cultural difference reflecting the closeness and bonds of Asian families. Actually, Claes explored the differences in interpersonal relationship of adolescents from Canada, Belgium, and Italy.50 The study revealed that Italian adolescents had very high level of closeness with all members of their families: “Italian adolescents clearly differed from Belgians and Canadians in the level of intimacy of the conversation with members of the family…on the other hand, Canadian adolescents had the most frequent and longest daily contact with their friends and they shared more activities with their friends than either of the other groups… Belgian adolescents were found to adopt a middle position between two extremes: they chose equally often a parent and a friend as the person closest to them.”51 Therefore, it is possible that these new immigrant adolescents’ dependence on parents rather than peers or friends is a feature of Asian or Korean family culture rather than an abnormal behavior caused by social isolation and vulnerability.
Passive Information-Seeking and Negative Coping Strategies: Information Poverty
The results of the interviews show that these South Korean immigrant adolescents prefer interpersonal and informal sources to formal information sources such as libraries. The phenomenon of using limited informal information sources and channels such as parents may be caused by human nature, as described in Zipf’s “principle of least effort.”52 But it can also be interpreted as the outcome of typical information poverty by limited communication channels, one of chronic problems in immigrants or minority societies.53
Beyond investigating the main reasons why new immigrant adolescents choose such information channels, it is at least certain that these South Korean immigrant adolescents seek information passively to solve their problems. Even though they are not satisfied with the information they seek and receive mainly from their mothers, they continue to use the same sources and seeking methods and do not experiment with other approaches that might relieve their social isolation and stress. Coping theories in psychology explain why people may “avoid” information, thus defending themselves against the discomfort they feel when seeking information in order to prevent further negative feelings (e.g., fear, insecurity, stress), even though their need for information to overcome their negative and difficult situations is strong.54> Vulnerable populations have a tendency to use emotion-focused coping strategies like avoiding information or ignoring realities rather than problem-focused coping strategies like seeking information.55 All interviewees focused on their emotions rather than on their realities or problems and then chose to seek information sources passively. This approach exacerbates immigrant adolescents’ poverty in terms of their information world resulting in limited information sources and/or communication channels.
To master adolescents’ developmental tasks, it is very important to make friends.56 The basic purpose of all the study subjects’ immigration to the U.S. is to nurture balanced growth and receive the benefit of a better education that will serve the multiple dimensions of cognition, emotion, volition, and socialization. Ironically, these respondents are experiencing a dearth of socio-affective growth in response to isolation from peers even though the reason they immigrated to the U.S. is to receive holistic and balanced growth through better education. Therefore, it is important for information professionals to consider both the information sources these young people demand and seek shallowly, as well as to scrutinize the basic but multi-faceted needs of their developmental stage, and then to provide information sources and guidelines that help them satisfy these needs.
Limitation and Further Research
As already mentioned above, this study was conducted using a very small sample due to the difficulty in identifying immigrant adolescents who meet the criteria of the study. While this study made it possible to test the feasibility of the research procedures and produced useful findings, further research is required that incorporates a larger sample as well as including immigrant adolescents who represent other ethnic backgrounds. This study focused only on South Korean immigrants and so it is not possible to generalize to other immigrant populations. In further research, a sample that included various ethnic groups would help to establish whether the attachment to parents, especially the mother, is a cultural artifact, a normal consequence of immigration, or is evidence of RAD symptoms.
Second, as partially mentioned in the discussion, this study focused on describing the phenomena related to information seeking rather than exploring and analyzing the reasons for such behaviors. Further study should focus on understanding why immigrant youth seek particular types of information in special contexts using a variety of research methods, such as longitudinal or comparative approaches. For instance, in the case of adolescents’ attachment to their mothers, further research can diagnose the degree of attachment by using an attachment measurement scale.57> The study could also determine the extent to which such behavior is normal or abnormal. Even though immigrant adolescents demonstrate normal attachment to parents, if they still depend on their parents as their primary information sources, the research will be able to focus on their social affects or to find relevant theories to interpret the reasons behind this distinctive behavior.
Through literature reviews on immigrants and adolescents’ information behavior and actual interviews with isolated recent South Korean immigrant adolescents, this research described and analyzed immigrant adolescents’ information worlds. It found that South Korean adolescent immigrants who are isolated from peers seek different information sources, such as their parents, and differ from general U.S. adolescents by passively coping with their problems by seeking limited information sources/channels to overcome their fundamental problems.
Further studies with more varied subjects and samples are required to draw a holistic picture of socio-affectively vulnerable adolescents’ ELIS behaviors. Such research would contribute to the exploration of the correlations between adolescents’ socio-affective conditions and their information seeking behaviors. Future studies will also enable teachers, librarians, and other information professionals to support immigrant adolescents’ abundant information needs and their healthy growth and development.
I’d like to thank Melissa Gross, my advisor in the School of Library and Information Studies at Florida State University, for providing endless encouragement and advice for the completion of the study.
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