Date of Award

Summer 8-7-2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Middle and Secondary Education

First Advisor

Peggy Albers, Ph.D

Second Advisor

Diane Belcher, Ph.D

Third Advisor

Nadia Behizadeh, Ph.D

Fourth Advisor

Laura May, Ph.D

Fifth Advisor

Jayoung Choi, Ph.D


There are growing populations of Korean parents who wish their children to have a study abroad experience in the ESL (English as a second language) context due to their beliefs that early exposure to an English-speaking environment is beneficial for children’s English proficiency. However, many children return to South Korea before reaching college age for various reasons, and Korean returnees are concerned on how to maintain (or improve) their children’s English proficiency in the EFL (English as a foreign language) context. Although there are some studies related to Korean English language learners’ study abroad experiences and second language acquisition, few studies have been conducted to investigate how study abroad experience influences Korean returnees’ English language learning experience.

The purpose of this qualitative case study was to investigate English language learners who recently returned to South Korea after learning English in the U.S. for more than two years. The research questions were as follows: 1) How do Korean returnees perceive the change of learning status from ESL learners to EFL learners, and 2) What characteristics influence the extent to which Korean returnees maintain or lose their English proficiency after having returned to South Korea?

The theoretical framework of this dissertation is based on the related literature of second language acquisition (SLA) theories and study abroad (SA) studies. Among second language acquisition studies, second language attrition theories are investigated and specific Korean education backgrounds are introduced. By using a case study method, I provide an extensive and in-depth description of Korean returnees’ English language learning experiences. Data were collected through the researcher’s field notes and semi-structured interviews with five participants and their mother. By analyzing Korean returnees’ perceptions on ESL and EFL learning contexts, this study extends the literature in the field of second language acquisition and contributes knowledge about factors that motivate English language learners to maintain and improve their English proficiency. This study has implications for English language learners within the U.S. and from other countries who struggle to achieve or at least maintain their second language proficiency.