Reflections From FKAF Grantees

May 22nd, 2015

The Fulbright Korea Alumni Fund provides grants to ETAs for community engagement or research projects that promote cultural understanding. With the help of FKAF grants, Fulbright Korea grantees are able to pursue projects that not only impact their communities, but also enrich their own grant experiences. Featured here are reflections from two recipients of the grant, first-year ETAs Deborah Wood and Johanna Yun. The diversity of their research projects reflects the varied backgrounds and intellectual interests of our ETA class.
Our thanks goes out to all alumni who have contributed to the fund this year, and who have made these two projects and so many more possible. If you are interested in contributing to FKAF in future years, please contact eta.coordinator[at]

Walking in the Shoes of a Korean Physician, by Johanna Yun (2014-15 ETA)

Empathy, I have learned, is necessary for understanding the truths of another domain that lies outside of the comforts of one’s own. Teaching in Korea has enabled me to have many opportunities to really test the limits of my ability to empathize with other people, particularly of the Korean culture. I decided upon coming here that in addition to being an American ambassador, my mission was to put myself into the shoes of my students and the Koreans around me, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be, to better understand the culture of this place. In doing so, I could share my experiences with Koreans and Americans alike, and hopefully pass down what little wisdom I could to other ETAs. For this reason, I viewed the FKAF research grant as not only a way to study something of my own interest, but also to share an experience of finding common ground with the Korean people.

When deciding how I wanted to spend my winter vacation, it became evident to me that I wanted to learn as much as I could about Korea’s health care and to become familiar with the daily lives of Korean physicians. This, to me, was a daunting task, given that I was not a medical student yet and I was going to be communicating, mostly in Korean, to extremely intelligent and academically elite medical professors. I spent three weeks, shadowing physicians from morning to evening, at three different Seoul National University Hospitals. Recording my observations, taking photographs, and interviewing physicians, I learned about what health care is like through the eyes of the Korean health-care providers.

As I learned more about their daily lives through physically walking and talking with them everywhere they went, I saw how exhausting and how demanding their lifestyle was, seeing about a hundred patients a day. By the end of my three weeks, I could empathize with the physicians and understand the challenges they faced, their cultural duties, and mannerisms. At the same time, I could flip the coin and see the same practice of medicine through the lens of an American, or that of a patient. So, at this point, I am in the process of writing a piece of literature to compare Korean and American health care that can hopefully share what little wisdom I have learned and reaffirm the lesson that if we, as ambassadors, are to understand the truths of this domain, we must push ourselves outside the safety of our own comforts.

A day in the life: team meetings, surgical scrubs and shoes, charts, research, and procedure observations.

A day in the life: team meetings, surgical scrubs and shoes, charts, research, and procedure observations.

The History of Astronomy in Korea, by Deborah Wood (2014-15 ETA)

My name is Deborah Wood, a first-year 2014-2015 ETA placed at two middle schools in rural Gyeongsangbuk-do. This year, I was honored to receive an FKAF grant in order to conduct research on the history of astronomy in Joseon Korea, specifically in the 16th-18th centuries.

Believe it or not, this subject sits at a fascinating intersection of mathematics, politics, and even religion: because calendars were so important to agriculture and consequently to the stability of the entire state, the power to create them became invested in a ruler, and the accuracy of these calendars could reflect on the ruler’s authority. Consequently, calendars played a significant role in the relationship between Korea and China, symbolizing China’s suzerainty over Korea, regulating political interactions, and helping shape their intellectual discourse.

When Jesuit missionaries settled in China in the early 17th century, they brought new mathematical methods that Korean astronomers subsequently wanted to learn. In addition, the introduced a new cosmology (Ptolemaic/Aristotelian geocentrism) that undermined Sinocentric tenets such as China’s place at the center of the world. Astronomy in early modern Joseon Korea was fraught with political and ideological implications, and in my FKAF research I look at their consequences in the past, through the historical record, and in the present day, through their presentation in museums.

History of science is a relatively new field of study, so most people are surprised when I talk about my research. But actually, my interest in history of science started when I was in middle school. My mother took a graduate course in the history of mathematics, and I loved the stories she told about math and mathematicians. Since high school, I have been on track to become a professional historian of mathematics, although my interest in the subject in East Asia is more recent. With the language skills I am learning here in Korea and the research skills I continue to develop thanks to the FKAF, I will return to the US later this year to pursue a PhD in the history of science.

Honil Gangni Yeokdae Gukdo Ji Do (혼일강리역대국도 지도), meaning "Map of Integrated Lands and Regions of Historical Countries and Capitals," c. 1470.

Honil Gangni Yeokdae Gukdo Ji Do (혼일강리역대국도 지도), meaning “Map of Integrated Lands and Regions of Historical Countries and Capitals,” c. 1470.


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