Koreans blame “English stress” for school shooting spree

Stress, isolation cited as cause of Korean American's rampage

John Dyer By John Dyer

Students and onlookers at Oikos University gather after a multiple shooting at the school in Oakland, California. (Reuters/Beck Diefenbach)

Koreans are reflecting on their stressed-out culture after a Korean allegedly went on a fatal shooting spree at Oikos University in Oakland, California on Tuesday.

The alleged shooter, former nursing student One Goh, was charged on Wednesday with seven counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder and other felonies. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Goh reportedly was lashing out against classmates who had teased him about his English skills, a touchy subject in his native country, The Korea Times wrote.

“Koreans are obsessed with the idea that they should be fluent in English,” said Lee Byung-min, a professor at the English education department of Seoul National University. “The irony is that Koreans do not have many chances to speak English.”

Koreans studying English can place tremendous pressure on themselves, the paper noted:

Five students from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), which has been at the forefront of the English lecture movement, committed suicide last year, igniting heated debates over such classes, with professors and students arguing that they caused unnecessary stress.

Koreans also experienced a sense of collective guilt about the shootings, as if they were to blame.

“Koreans tend to expand the concept of family when they think of Korean-Americans or other nationalities with Korean decent [sic],” said Sogang University Professor Kim Woo-seon in a Korea Times piece that asked whether Koreans, like Jews, have an expanded sense of national identity.

Speaking to CNN during a man-on-the-street interview in Seoul on the morning after the shooting, Hwang Joon exemplifed this perspective. “As a Korean, it’s really regrettable to hear that a Korean living overseas did such a thing,” said Joon.

Around one million foreign-born Koreans live in the U.S. In a strange coincidence, the gunman in the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, Seung-Hui Cho, was also a Korean permanently resident in the US.

Immigrant challenges

Koreans living in the US also suggested that Goh’s identity as an immigrant, and his distance from home, factored into his actions.

“Life as an immigrant in this country can be very isolating and lonely,” Nam Paik, a pastor based in nearby Fremont, California told New American Media.

But Paik said American culture likely also played a role. “…the violence in American culture… with high rates of gun possession and an entertainment industry that glorifies violence can definitely influence people.”

Goh also may have felt isolated due to a series of unfortunate life events. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that his brother died last year in a car accident in Virginia, and his mother also died last year after moving back to Korea. His father had recently moved away from Oakland. Goh himself had left Virginia with bills unpaid.

Ironically, the school’s founder, Rev. Jongin Kim, established the school as a welcoming place for Korean immigrants. “Oikos” in Greek means family or household.

‘‘The founder felt there was a need for theology and nursing courses for Korean-Americans who were newer to the community,’’ Jerry Sung, an Oikos University accountant, told the Associated Press. ‘‘He felt they would feel more comfortable if they had Korean-American professors.’’


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