Out of the office: The goose family

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

“They call us a ‘goose family,’” a Notre Dame student said to me as we talked last week about his planned fall-break trip to Seoul, his hometown.

Although his English is perfectly understandable, I had to ask him twice what he had just said.

One of my favorite things about working at Notre Dame is how much I learn in informal discussions. Someone lunching at Café de Grasta may bring up the issue of Ebola and how protecting Americans from the disease could endanger our beloved civil liberties. Or, as I walk with a group to a meeting in Washington Hall, I may hear a conversation about the merits of religious belief. Or, just as likely, about who is the best college football quarterback.

And sometimes, like in my chat with the Korean student, I may hear a tidbit that opens my eyes to an intriguing cultural trend. And without setting foot in a classroom, I learn something.

The “goose family” term, I discovered with some quick Google research, refers to South Korean families that separate for the sake of their children’s education: Generally the father stays in the country while the mother and children move abroad so the kids can be educated in an English-speaking country. The United States, New Zealand and Australia are among the popular destinations. Numbers were hard to come by, but it seems about 5 percent of Korean families fit the migratory pattern.

Reasons for making this difficult choice vary, but my online research suggests that some South Korean parents are unhappy with the rote-memorization aspect of their country’s schools, which they believe discourages creative thinking. The status of studying abroad also comes into play, as does play itself. Down time apparently is unheard of in the Asian schools. “In South Korea, a single-minded emphasis on college-entrance exams means students frequently leave home at dawn and do not return until late evening,” an Associated Press article said.

As a friend of mine was famous for saying, “You never know, you know?” And now I know, once again, how a place less than two miles from my home continues to open up my world.

Carol Schaal is managing editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email her at schaal.2@nd.edu.