Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Philosophy (Ph.D)


Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor

Donald R McClure

Second Advisor

Sandra S Abrams

Third Advisor

Mary Beth Schaefer


Asian and Asian American students are achieving academic success at disproportionate rates, even when faced with low social capital (i.e., English is not the primary language spoken at home) and high rates of poverty (especially in urban settings like New York City). A contributing factor to their academic success is shadow education. Shadow education (SE) is defined as systemized learning that occurs outside of compulsory schooling, at private cost, with the objective of guiding students through and providing them with a competitive edge in school admissions—often with a focus on high-stakes standardized academic exams (Bray, 1999, 2013). In Korean, shadow education is known as “hagwon.” Though hagwon has existed in the U.S. since the 1970s, almost no qualitative research on shadow education has been conducted and published here. This ethnographic multi-case study examined the hagwon experiences of seven Asian American high school students who were studying for the SAT across three hagwons—two in northern New Jersey and one in Queens, New York. Framed through the theoretical lenses of Bourdieu’s habitus and Lévi-Strauss’s bricolage, this study situated hagwon as a field of convergence for multiple cultural streams (i.e., East and West; families and peers; local and distal communities) to create a distinct habitus, characterized by a ubiquitous and inescapable imperative for the attendees focused on discipline and achievement. This cobbled-together “habitus of hagwon” drove behavioral, curricular, and even environmental decisions on the part of the students and hagwons. Hagwon was part of a larger calculation: increasing as much as possible their odds for desired outcomes at every level of the college admissions process. Though students perceived that content crossover between hagwon and school was minimal, participants acknowledged that certain mental tools and social capital—independent work ethic, enduring difficulty, time management, and self-generating interest in uninteresting material—crossed over to school and professional environments. In addition, students found the camaraderie from peers and teachers to be invaluable—and built on shared cultural capital and common purpose—which separated their hagwon experiences from their school experiences and situated hagwon as an essential site of cultural replication, transmission, and negotiation.