Alumni Spotlight: Where Are They Now?

July 17th, 2017

The FKAR team had the privilege of interviewing Summit Shah (ETA ’04-’05) and Ray Sawyer (ETA ’13-’14), who generously offered to share their insight on the Fulbright experience and its impact on the work they do today.


ETA Spotlight: Mat Goldberg and Hannah Shannon

July 4th, 2017

Mat Goldberg (ETA 2014-17) and Hannah Shannon (ETA 2014-16 and current JET ALT) are joining forces to design a cross-cultural, leadership English camp for Korean and Japanese students this summer. Amid their busy schedules, they gave FKAR the inside scoop to the upcoming Korea Japan English Camp. Read on to learn about the inspiration, potential challenges, and more for the Camp!


Researcher Spotlight: Russell Burge

July 4th, 2017

Russell Burge
Junior Researcher 2016-17

Can you provide a small bio that outlines your hometown and education background?
I grew up in Escondido, California and majored in Art History at UCLA. After a brief stint working in the art world in New York City I came to Incheon to teach English, which is how I became interested in Korean language and history. After two years working in South Korea I completed a masters at Harvard’s Regional Studies East Asia program, and am currently a PhD candidate in the History Department at Stanford University.

Can you briefly tell us about your research?
I look at city growth and social change during the 1960s and 1970s, a time in which South Korea underwent rapid development, shifting from a rural to urban society. My focus is on the history of Seoul, which was the largest center of rural-urban migration and quadrupled in size during these decades. This is an important area to study because we see some of the most contentious questions in South Korea today – such as the relationship between development and inequality, and the relationship of the government to urban voters and urban protest – emerge for the first time in a big way. My dissertation looks at these questions from two main angles: the rise of shantytowns and the political struggles around their existence, and the development of the Gangnam region.


Researcher Spotlight: Ben Young

April 19th, 2017

Ben Young
Junior Researcher 2016-’17

Can you provide a small bio that outlines your hometown, education background, and a fun fact?
I was born and raised in Rochester, New York. I went to a public high school and then attended The College at Brockport, State University of New York, which is a small state school located 20 miles outside of Rochester. I received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from SUNY Brockport and I’m now pursuing my PhD at George Washington University in DC. I’m very proud to be from Western New York (which is not New York City!) and I’m still quite close with my high school buddies. One fun fact about myself (more like a weird fact about myself) is that I memorized the nicknames of all Division 1 colleges when I was a kid and, for some odd reason, I still remember them. I could have learned something useful, like Chinese, but instead I memorized nicknames of college sports teams.

Can you provide a brief overview of your research/dissertation?
My dissertation looks at North Korea’s relations with the Global South during the Cold War era. Many people don’t realize that up until about the mid-1970s, North Korea was ahead of South Korea in most indicators of economic output. This had a massive effect on the foreign policies of the two Koreas. During the 1960s and 1970s, there were many newly independent, postcolonial countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, which is what I refer to as the Global South. These countries had to choose whether to diplomatically recognize North or South Korea. The choice was not as obvious back then as it might be today. So, for my dissertation, I trace the history of North Korea’s links to Latin America, Africa, and southern Asia. During the Cold War era, North Korea often gave financial and military assistance to many postcolonial countries. The isolated and rogue North Korea, that we know today, is a relatively new phenomenon. I think it is important to historicize North Korea in order to better understand their worldview and policies. Since its inception, North Korea has been a revolutionary country that sees itself as under siege from an aggressive and morally corrupt world. During the Cold War era, this worldview resulted in a proactive foreign policy. Now, North Korea’s foreign policy is reactive.

What inspired you to choose this research? What got you interested in North Korea?
I was very interested in Russian history when I was an undergrad at SUNY Brockport. I took all of the Russian history courses I could at the time. However, I really wanted to study a country that was still communist so I read every book I could on North Korea. I became obsessed with the place. My first trip abroad was actually to North Korea in 2012. Most recent college graduates to Cancun or Paris. I went to Pyongyang. So, that trip just propelled me further into North Korean studies. I still have good friends from that trip to Pyongyang. It was full of interesting characters. As for this specific research topic, I found that most contemporary analyses of North Korea lack historical depth. I think history is very important for understanding such an opaque country. With historical analysis, you can establish patterns in North Korean actions and make their seemingly unpredictability more predictable. Also, the history of North Korea’s foreign policy, specifically its relations with the Global South, is severely under-researched but critically important. Just look at the recent killing of Kim Jong Nam. Where did it happen? It wasn’t in North Korea or China. It was in Malaysia. That did not surprise me. For a long time, North Korea has conducted nefarious activities in Southeast Asia. It’s been a space where the North Korean leadership feels quite comfortable conducting violence against it political rivals.

What do you hope to do with this research? What are some of your future goals?
I hope to turn my dissertation into a book and eventually become a tenured professor at a college/university or work in a Korea-related capacity with the U.S government or a think tank.

What is your experience with Korea? Have you lived in Korea before?
I visited North Korea in 2012, which propelled me into the field of Korean studies. A year later, I taught English at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul and then studied the Korean language at a tiny Buddhist school in the South Korean countryside. This is officially my third time living in South Korea and fourth time on the peninsula. I’ve also lived briefly in the ethnic Korean region of northeastern China.

What are your thoughts on the current and future relationship between the Trump administration and North Korea?
Well, it’s frankly worrying. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently said that a pre-emptive military strike on North Korea is not out of the question. That would trigger a full-out war and millions in both Koreas would die. I think this administration needs to do more than nothing, which is what Obama did. However, it needs to be well thought out and balanced. The North Koreans are master tacticians and may be able to manipulate the next ROK president (who will probably be a leftist) and the inexperienced Trump administration.

If you had to sum up one fact for people to learn about North Korea, what would it be?
That’s a difficult question to answer, as there is a lot of misinformation out there on North Korea. It’s important to remember that North Koreans are not automatons but people with their own emotions, beliefs, and fears. They will be the agents of change in that country.

What do you do in your spare time in Korea?
I’ve recently become interested in South Korean cinema and watch 1-2 movies per week. In the future, I’d love to teach a course on South Korean cinema. My favorite South Korean movies are The Wailing and Memories of Murder. South Korean cinema is very similar to Russian literature. That might be why I like it so much. If people abroad really want to understand Korean culture, watch South Korean movies.

Do you have any advice for those interested in conducting research in Korea?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Whether it’s a librarian or an establish professor in your area of study, don’t be afraid to shoot them an email or ask them in person. South Koreans will go out of their way to help you once you make the first move. It can be quite nerve-wracking to do so but it’s worth it in the end.

Do you have any tips on learning Korean?
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. As someone who had to take weekly speech lessons as a kid, language, let alone a foreign language as difficult as Korean, has never come easy to me. When I initially started studying Korean, I really struggled. However, I kept with it and have improved a lot since I first started. What really helped was a summer studying Korean at Middlebury Language School. Middlebury requires that you speak only in Korean. That really improved my Korean and made me feel more comfortable making mistakes in the language. If you are afraid of making mistakes in Korean, you will never approve. The best people to practice Korean with are taxi cab drivers in Seoul. Most do not know any English and do not slow down their speech for you.

What’s your favorite part about living in Korea?
South Korea is a really safe country. That might seem absurd to some Americans considering the fact that the neighbor up north can cause quite the ruckus from time to time. However, on a local level, this is a safe country and I’ve heard many stories of foreigners accidentally leaving stuff in the Seoul subway and having it be promptly returned to them. In America, that stuff is gone and most likely re-sold on Ebay within a day. Also, South Koreans are active participants in their democracy. They don’t take it for granted. I think many Americans take democracy for granted and forget that democracy is not the norm in much of the world. I will have to say though that I find the excessive consumption and emphasis on beauty in South Korea to be repulsive at times. This almost singular focus on wealth and image creates a rather toxic and stifling atmosphere. I don’t think young South Koreans are very happy and many want to leave South Korea and live abroad. There is too much pressure on young South Koreans to conform to unrealistic standards that South Korean society has placed on them.

Is there anything else you would like to say?
I want to thank my family for being so supportive of my Korea-related endeavors. I don’t come from a family of academics but my entire family has been so kind, loving, and supportive of my academic pursuits. I really appreciate that because getting a PhD is not an easy or quick path to take.

 

Ben Young is a Fulbright Junior Researcher in Seoul (2016-2017), and a PhD candidate in East Asian history at George Washington University.


Alumni Spotlight: Where Are They Now?

April 18th, 2017

The FKAR team had the privilege of interviewing Julia Bach (ETA ’06-’07), who generously offered to share her insights on the Fulbright experience and its impact on the work she does today.

Julia Bach, ETA 2006

 

What is your occupation/future occupation?
Since graduating college, I have been involved in the field of education-very much with a global focus. Since completing my year in Korea, I have taught in the US, gotten my masters in International Education Policy, worked with teachers in India and taught in Malawi. I am in the process of applying for further studies and know that living and working abroad will continue to be an important part of my life. 

What is your biggest piece of advice for a current ETA?
Accept invitations that people extend to you. Spending time with your co-teacher, host family and other colleagues is a wonderful opportunity to see and do things you would not have the chance to do otherwise. 

How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work?
In the last 10 years, I have spent more time living and working outside of the US than within it. I think my year in Korea solidified my passion for exploring the world. I was always interested in education, but my experience as an ETA, working within a school with a number of talented colleagues, taught me that there are so many different approaches to education and teacher learning. 

What was the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA?
It has been a while, but I remember two types of challenges. One was related to work: I was a novice teacher and desperately trying to maintain the attention and engagement of 35 six year olds. I had some wonderful suggestions and valuable input from the classroom teachers which helped enormously. It was also challenging to constantly play catch-up with conversations and situations. Because of my students, I did learn quite a bit of Korean, but fast paced adult conversations made my head spin.

What is your favorite memory from Korea?
I had such fun with my colleagues. I remember chaperoning field trips and having my numbers read, enjoying dinners after work and making kimchi with colleagues. They graciously included me in the life of the school which made the experience very special. I also lived with a host family where the little girl was learning to read. I would strategically sit next to her mom when it was story time so I could also practice my reading.

What is your favorite quote?
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” ~ Nelson Mandela


Changing Angles: A Look Into One Korean FLTA's Experience in the United States

January 21st, 2017

FKAR had the opportunity to interview Heemang Kim, a grantee of the Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) program, for this winter’s newsletter. The Fulbright FLTA Program is designed to develop Americans’ knowledge of foreign cultures and languages by supporting teaching assistantships in over 30 languages at hundreds of U.S. institutions of higher education. The program offers educators from over 50 countries the opportunity to develop their professional skills and gain first-hand knowledge of the U.S., its culture and its people.

Heemang shows off her newly-acquired baking skills.

How did you choose to apply for the Fulbright Grant?
Before I went to graduate school, I was a teacher at a middle school in Mokpo and while there, I worked with Fulbright ETAs. I was inspired by their passion and hard work. Fulbright’s mission of cultural ambassadorship especially fascinated me and encouraged me to apply for the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) program.

How long is your grant period in the U.S.?
9 months; I started my grant in August 2016 and will finish in May 2017.

Can you briefly tell us about your day-to-day life in the U.S.?
I’m working and studying at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. My first priority as an FLTA is teaching. This semester, I’m teaching an advanced Korean-language course to undergraduate students. Also, I hold Korean cooking and conversation class every month; so far, we have made 팥빙수 (patbingsu), 김밥 (kimbap), and 떡볶이 (tteokbokki). In addition, I volunteer at a primary school for community service once a week. I teach the children about basic Korean language and Korean culture.

What do you like the most/the least about the U.S?
The best thing about the U.S is variety. Various people from different backgrounds work and study together, and they respect each other. I’m learning from them every day.

What do you miss the most about Korea?
양념통닭 (Korean fried chicken) and talking to my close friends and family in my mother tongue.

What are the biggest differences you see between the university experience in the U.S. and in Korea?
I was really surprised when a student started eating a sandwich in the middle of my class (laughs). Besides that, campus life is very similar between Korea and the U.S.

What is the general perception of the U. S. in Korea? Are those perceptions correct? In your opinion, what are U.S.’s greatest strengths and weaknesses?
Before I came here, my knowledge about the U.S was mainly from Hollywood movies. I thought people in America would develop romantic relationship easily, but I was totally wrong about that. Everywhere, people live and love in a similar way because love is the most basic instinct of humanity.

In my opinion, the greatest strength of the U.S is tolerance for individual differences. I think that’s because the U.S earned its freedom from its history and experience, and not from books. Therefore, seeing American people acknowledge the differences among one another is very important to me. The greatest weakness is the public transportation… I miss the buses in Korea (laughs).

Heemang explores Chicago’s “Bean”

Can you describe a situation in which you felt it necessary to be an ambassador for your country? For example, has there been a situation in which you needed to clarify erroneous stereotypes or assumptions about Korean culture? How did you handle that situation?
In the midwest area of the U.S, where I’m staying, there is limited diversity compared to other areas in the U.S. So, sometimes I encounter various questions or preconceptions about Korea or Asian countries. Sadly, most of those questions are awkward or sometimes offensive. For example, “Are you Chinese?”, “Do Asians speak the same language?”, “Do you need Kimchi?” (when I was teaching calligraphy).

At first, when I had these types of experiences, I was confused because I wasn’t sure if it was offensive or if I was overreacting. Later, when I told the people that it was offensive, most people said they didn’t mean it in a bad way, which made me feel more confused. However, I talked to many friends, professors, coworkers, and students about this issue, and they shared advice with me. I tried to explain why I get offended by the questions, and we discussed how I should deal with these situations, and what I can do to promote my country as a cultural ambassador.

First, I realized that the reason I felt offended by those questions was that sometimes I interpreted them as, “My [mother] language is not sophisticated enough that I can understand other languages and cultures,” or “I don’t care about what you are doing now. I just want to make sure I know something about your country.”

Second, I could deal with these issues with a clearer reaction and without feeling too emotional. For example, I can notify them if I felt offended by it, first. Then, I can explain how it could be interpreted by other people. Finally, as a cultural ambassador, I can give a better explanation of my culture. The most difficult thing about this is not being emotional. One of the most important things we all should remember is, no one culture is better than another, but there are varieties of cultures, and we should appreciate them as they are. I hope that I can do my job as a cultural ambassador successfully, and that I can contribute making a better world where people understand each other.

Has your experience here helped you gain an ability to communicate effectively within and among diverse cultural groups?
Oh, definitely. My experience as an FLTA has changed all my prejudice against different cultures. And I’m still learning a lot. I used to take a long time to become friends with new people because I felt insecure with strangers, and I was afraid of being rejected. However, my FLTA colleagues and the many nice people here taught me that there are no barriers to being friends, and if you open your heart to them, they will open theirs to you, and every culture deserves to be respected. I’m really grateful for my FLTA friends because they are very patient with me and kind to me. Rather than “Foreign”, the ‘F’ of FLTA means “Family” to me.

Finally, what is your favorite English slang word/phrase you’ve learned since arriving in the U.S.?
I’m hangry!


Alumni Spotlight: Where Are They Now?

January 21st, 2017

The FKAR team had the privilege of interviewing three alumni with differing interests and career paths post Fulbright. Angela Eikenberry (ETA 1994-95), Ammy Yuan (ETA 2012-13), and Sammi Marcoux (ETA 2013-16) generously offered to share their insights on the Fulbright experience and its impact on the work they do today.

Angela Eikenberry, ETA 1994-95

Hometown: Omaha, Nebraska
Year of grant: 1994-1995
Current position/location: Professor, University of Nebraska at Omaha
Fulbright placement: Ulsan

Looking back, what is your most memorable moment in Fulbright Korea?
One of my most memorable moments was coming home to my host family in Ulsan and finding squid drying on the clothesline—not something you see very often in Nebraska!

How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work?
I think it reinforced my interest in pursuing a master’s degree and doing something in public service—I eventually did a Master’s in Public Administration with a focus on nonprofit management and then went on to get my PhD and now I’m a full professor. I also recently completed a Fulbright in the UK, studying giving collaboratives. None of that would have likely happened without my Fulbright ETA experience.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA?
Living in another country and culture, far away from home was sometimes lonely. I’m not sure I always coped very well, but I did learn a lot about myself, which stays with me still.

What words of advice do you have for current ETAs in South Korea?
Take it easy with the soju! Seriously, exercise. I joined a local Hash House Harriers, which was one way I stayed active and kept the loneliness at bay.

Favorite quote to live by?
“When they go low, we go high.” ~ Michelle Obama
“If you’ve got a blacklist, I want to be on it.” ~ Billy Bragg

Ammy Yuan, ETA 2012-13

What is your current occupation? What do you see yourself doing in the future?
Management Consultant for A.T. Kearny Global Management Consulting Firm in San Francisco. Ultimately, I want to work for an organization that fights for victims of human trafficking.

What is your biggest piece of advice for current ETAs?
Roll with the punches. Life never goes as planned, and that’s actually a good thing as it keeps things interesting. Whether it’s your teaching lessons or your weekend plans, learn to adapt in any situation and see the glass as half full. 

How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work?
Being an ETA has really permeated a lot of aspects of my life (case in point, I live with Fulbrighters and still travel with Fulbrighters to this day)…The skills I’ve accumulated from teaching in Korea have been useful in that I can speak confidently in front of groups, tailor my presentations depending on my audience, work with those from different cultures, etc…It has definitely made me more aware of the importance of education, foreign affairs, and the necessity of being open-minded.

What is the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA?
The biggest challenge I faced was learning how to communicate while taking into account all the different cultural nuances. Miscommunication and unintended offenses often led to unnecessary stressful situations. For example, within the first week of placement at my school, I had to say no to my Principal when he asked if I could teach additional weekly Saturday and Sunday classes. Unfortunately, I was not more careful about my words and it led to the Principal being offended, which led to me having to do damage control.

What is your favorite memory from Korea?
This is a tough question as I have so many great memories. I may have to name a few: Busan Film Festival with a bunch of the Fulbrighters; going on a weekend field trip with my students to Buyeo, Everland, and JobWorld; going on a Membership Training with my homestay family over Chuseok; and going off-trailing hiking with the 아저씨s from my school. 

Is there any funny anecdote you would like to share?
During my year, we created the first Fulbright KPop group as a joke. A group of Fulbrighters wanted to check out the famous salt farms and mudflats on Jeungdo Island… We were walking around exploring when we came across a torn down, broken umbrella on the beach and someone mentioned how it looked like it could be a photo shoot spot for a kpop group. Long story short, Dream Makers, aka DM for short, was born. Whenever we took pictures that weekend, we turned it into a photo shoot and it became a lasting inside joke for all involved. I still laugh when I look at this picture:

Sammi Marcoux, ETA 2013-16

Hometown: Denver, CO
Years of grant: 2013-2016
Current position/location: Visiting Professor at Jungwon University, Goesan, South Korea
Fulbright placement: Daejeon Saint Mary’s Girls High School (‘13- ‘14) and Jungwon University (‘14-‘16)

What is your most memorable moment in Fulbright Korea?
The first time Director Shim addressed my cohort. She told us, “If you love your students, everything else will fall into place.” And that is exactly what I did for my three years in Fulbright. I started every lesson with the intent of loving, encouraging, and connecting with my students. My students always knew that I was there for them when they needed me. My students always knew I loved them.

How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work?
I have become much more interested in English as a second/foreign language education and Korean as a foreign language education. My next goal is looking more closely at Korean studies and language education pedagogies, specifically in the realm of how Korea is contributing to foreign language education.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA?
I feel as though my biggest challenge as an ETA was adjusting to the professional work setting. It took a while for me to leave student mode, and switch to a professional mode that centered on how I can help and build others up around me.

What words of advice do you have for current ETAs in South Korea?
1. Learn to connect while you are here or better hone your connection skills if you already have a strong base. Connect in love, devoid of harsh judgment.
2. Think about when you need to speak up and when you need to listen more.

Favorite quote to live by?
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” ~Epictetus


Researcher Spotlight: Katelyn Hemmeke

January 21st, 2017

PC: Andrew Le from http://www.drewle.com/

Can you provide a small bio that outlines your hometown, education background, and a fun fact?
I grew up in Hamilton, Michigan, a rural town on the west side of the state. I earned my BA in English, Spanish and French from Hope College and my MA in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Fun fact: I once met G-Dragon’s dad.

Can you describe your research? How are you usingpersonal narratives as a method of empowerment?
My research focuses on Korean transnational adoptees and their experiences with birth family search and reunion. The birth family search process is quite difficult and most people aren’t able to find their birth families; a recent article in the Korea Herald stated that from 2012-2015, only 14.7% of the nearly 5,000 adoptees who searched during those three years were able to reunite with their birth families, and that’s one of the highest statistics I’ve read regarding birth family search success rates. I’m interested in seeing if I can pinpoint anything about the birth family search process that might shed light on ways to improve post-adoption services and increase adoptees’ chances of finding their birth families. As a literature scholar, I’m also interested in discourse analysis and the ways adoptees utilize their personal narratives as acts of personal empowerment and/or political resistance. Adoption discourse has long been constructed and controlled by adoption agencies and adoptive parents, with the voices of adoptees and birth families kept in silence. It’s pretty fascinating to analyze the ways that adoption agencies and adoptive parents use language to perpetuate these kinds of power structures — and the ways that adoptees use language to push back.

What inspired you to choose this research?
I’m a Korean-American adoptee myself, so I obviously feel personally invested in anything having to do with adoption issues. There’s not much research out there regarding birth family search and reunion, particularly the latter. The media tends to display a very one-dimensional image of birth family reunion — a sentimental moment in which the long-lost birth mother and adoptee tearfully embrace, and after that, they live happily ever after. However, it’s much more complicated than that due to the language and cultural barriers that often stand between transnational adoptees and birth families, and the story doesn’t end with that single moment of reunion. The adoptee and family have to continue navigating their relationships — with each other, with the rest of their family members — and all the trauma they’ve suffered from their separation doesn’t magically disappear just because they’ve reunited. No one really talks about how hard and complicated all of that can be, which is why I hope to shed some light in adoptees’ own words through their personal narratives.

This picture is from my last few days as an ETA. My students always worked so hard and showed me so much love — I’m so lucky to have had the chance to spend two years with them!” –Katelyn Hemmeke

How does it feel returning to Korea after being an ETA? Can you describe a little about your experience as an ETA?
I love being back in Korea. This isn’t my first time back since my ETA days — I came back once for my students’ graduation and another time to study Korean through the CLS Program — but it’s wonderful to be back for a longer period of time. It’s fun to revisit some of my favorite places, but it’s also mind-boggling to see how quickly things keep changing here.

I also loved being an ETA and have so many great memories from those two years. It was so fulfilling to work with fellow ETAs on projects like Infusion, YDAC, and FEIP. And teaching my Korean students is one of the most rewarding things I’ll ever do. I still keep in touch with a lot of them, and they continue to inspire me with their utter brilliance, unfailing work ethic, and genuine warmth.

What do you hope to do with this research? What are some of your future goals?
The big dream is to publish a book. I may go on for a Ph.D someday, but for now I think I’d like to work in editing or publishing, as well as continue to write essays and creative nonfiction.

What do you do in your spare time in Korea?
I’m taking intensive Korean language classes at Ewha, so that occupies a lot of my time. I love exploring Korea — there’s so much to do and see just in Seoul, but intercity travel is one of my favorite aspects of living in Korea because it’s so easy and cheap. I also try to stay pretty active among the adoptee organizations by going to their events and volunteering whenever opportunities arise. Most of the time, though, you can find me in a café somewhere reading, writing, or studying.

Do you have any advice for ETAs or those interested in conducting research in Korea?
Keep your ear to the ground for events and lectures happening around the city that are relevant to your research interests. Even events that aren’t directly related to your research interests are still worth attending, because you never know who you might meet there. Happy to talk to anyone interested in contacting me!

What’s your favorite part about living in Seoul?
There’s always something going on — maybe too much! There’s never enough time to attend all of the cool events happening here.

 

Katelyn Hemmeke is a current Junior Researcher with Fulbright Korea and also earned a grant as a Fulbright Korea ETA between  2012-2014.


Researcher Spotlight: Joyce Kim

October 21st, 2016

Joyce Kim, Junior Researcher 2015-2016
Education: B.A. University of Pennsylvania
Hometown: Allen, TX

Can you tell FKAR about your research? Does it relate with North Korean Defectors?
My research ended up going into two different strands:

Design Thinking Applied to NKD Education Programs
There are many government-assisted and NGO-run programs to facilitate the challenging resettlement process for defectors. However, the majority of these programs are designed without the end user (defector youth) in mind. Many of these programs also have alternative motivations that are religious and political. Among these programs, Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) is one of the few non-partisan, non-ethnic and non-religious groups that seek to help North Korean defectors. Embodying their non-affiliated status is their motto of “people over politics”, which emphasizes their orientation towards the North Korean people versus other NGOs’ approaches. LiNK seeks to provide continuous guidance and assistance to resettling North Koreans in a holistic fashion. Because of LiNK”s unique characteristics within the landscape of North Korea-related NGOs and government organizations, it makes for a compelling case study in answering this question: How do we create effective resettlement education programs for North Korean defector youth?

Using ethnographic methods and design research, I use LiNK as a case study to understand how education programs can be created for unique populations such as resettling North Korean defector youth. I argue that LiNK’s focus on defectors as individuals with potential versus a politicized minority group within South Korea are a best-practice perspective. The implications of this project include the utility of design research methods in targeting the needs of vulnerable and marginalized populations. The findings of this case study offer a unique approach to addressing the needs of North Korean defectors – an important policy issue in South Korea.


Political Resocialization of NKD Millennials
With a population of nearly 30,000 individuals, North Korean defectors are a unique population in South Korea. Currently, the ROK government spends $105 million annually to aid with defector resettlement. Yet, existing literature has pointed to the many difficulties defectors have adjusting to South Korea society. Defectors struggle with educational attainment, economic advancement, and mental health issues. Furthermore, the stark contrasts between the political systems of their past and present environments affect defectors’ self-conceptualization of citizenship in relation to the South Korean sense of nationalism. However, a small number of defectors have attained global prominence by sharing their personal accounts of human rights violations and by sending information into North Korea. Media coverage of these prominent defectors strongly influences public perception of defectors at-large. Through analyzing the results of twenty-one qualitative interviews with North Korean defector millennials, I argue that the pervasive coverage and activities of these globally prominent defectors promotes a homogeneous narrative of defectors amongst South Koreans. Such a narrative adversely affects the defector resettlement process. Further implications of the diversity of views in defectors’ resocialized political identities include the shifting landscape of South Korea’s national identity.

Why did you choose this research topic? What inspired you?
My paternal grandparents are from North Korea, so that’s where the interest originated. I wrote my college admissions essay on North Korean human rights and also wrote my undergraduate thesis on how South Korea’s education system perpetuates discrimination against North Korean defectors. Coming to South Korea to directly engage with the NKD community seemed like a natural next step.

That answers our second question about why you choose Korea.
Yes, my academic background (political science major, Korean studies minor) relates to my research topic and coming to Korea. I also thought as a Korean-American it would be neat to reconnect with my heritage. This year was the first time I was back in almost ten years.

Where do you hope to go from here? Where do you want to do your research and everything you’ve learned?
It’s really important that my research has some practical application. The education project is being adapted to how LiNK designs its education programs. As for the political resocialization program, assigned from the academic paper, I’m also planning to share my results through online articles (e.g. NK News- one of the largest independent news sources on NK)

In the short time, I’ll be doing a nonprofit fellowship next year in San Francisco.  I then want to go to grad school in international education. I plan to apply skills from this year and next year to become a professor who also applies her research to the relevant communities.

What do you like doing in your free time?
I enjoy traveling and exploring. I also like photography, biking, music festivals, contemporary art, body combat, and of course, reading.


Elaine Townsend: Rockstar ETA

July 8th, 2015


Elaine Townsend, a proud UNC alumna with a degree in Middle Grades Education, recently finished two years as a Fulbright Korea ETA (’12-14).

A self-described shameless selfie expert, Townsend attributes her growth both professionally and personally to her Fulbright experience, which she says has opened new doors to the meaning of community, family, and culture.

My grant years were a wonderful whirlwind of experiences as I learned so much about myself, others, and my surrounding world. I also learned how to take shameless selfies, surf-balance on turbulent buses, and grub on makchang (막창) like it’s no one’s business.

Elaine spent her time as an ETA at the Attached Elementary School of Kyungpook National University in Daegu. Passionate about education and naturally good with kids, Elaine soon became a rockstar teacher with an equally impressive student entourage.