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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Naomi Gerstel

Second Advisor

Miliann Kang

Third Advisor

Joya Misra

Fourth Advisor

Millicent Thayer

Subject Categories

Family, Life Course, and Society | Gender and Sexuality | Migration Studies


Drawing on interviews with 74 South Korean (hereafter Korean) students and 34 parents at ten elite U.S. colleges, I examine how elite Korean parents seek to reproduce and extend their family privilege through children’s transnational education. I analyze how each group – children, mothers, and fathers – interprets and represents their views of the elite transnational parenting they experienced or practiced. By triangulating the narratives of three groups, I explore the family dynamics of the transnational families of high-achieving Korean students abroad. Well-educated yet opt-out mothers intensively managed their children’s early education, often relying on gender-segregated networks. In contrast, cosmopolitan professional fathers heavily engaged in guiding their children’s education and career preparation abroad, using their class resources, such as English proficiency, professional careers, and social networks of other elites. In children’s narratives, mothers’ lifelong care for their private life was undervalued and criticized, while fathers’ growing involvement in their later education was highly valued and appreciated. Across employment statuses, mothers in this dissertation shared and internalized the notion of “intensive mothering.” Mothers with professional occupations extended the meaning of being a “good” transnational mother by providing their children with both motherly care and academic support. In contrast, less-transnational opt-out mothers limited the scope of their involvement in their children’s lives abroad due to their lack of transnational resources, such as English proficiency and knowledge about elite education and careers abroad. Elite fathers in this dissertation pursued extensive transnational fatherhood, an extended version of engaging fatherhood. Studied- or worked-abroad fathers emphasized their effort for both academic and emotional support for their children. While they shared a great deal of joy and a sense of fulfillment from their fatherhood, less-affluent, never-studied-abroad fathers undervalued their fatherhood, doubting their capability to help their high-achieving children abroad. Class privilege, or transnational mobility, is being reproduced based on the gender achievement gap within elite families. My findings contextualize the discourse of Asian high achievement, which has been racialized and gendered, reflecting the notions of “model minority” and “tiger mother.” This study re-writes the stereotypical dichotomy between intense mothers and distant fathers in Korean or Asian families.