My Fulbright experience in South Korea is something I would not trade for anything else.
I was awarded the Fulbright Fellowship to conduct research in South Korea during the 2013-2014 year.
My research revolved around the influence of hereditary succession in South Korean politics, and the nature of the country’s gender politics.
My interest in this project stemmed from the results of the 2012 South Korean Presidential Elections where presidential candidate, Park Geun-hye, won the race.
The daughter of one of South Korea’s most notorious dictators, Park’s electoral victory was plagued by controversy.
Using this as my background, I embarked on my research project. Due to the multi-faceted nature of my project, my research involved heavy fieldwork.
And the Fulbright experience brought me into contact with a fascinating array of people, from whom I have learned so much about South Korean culture and its politics.
Presenting my research during a conference at the KAL Hotel on Jeju Islands, South Korea:
The Fulbright enriched me in important life skills, such as professionalism, adaptability, and responsibility.
However, the two most essential skills I acquired were networking and building trust.
In Korea, I interacted with and interviewed politicians, scholars, and the general public.
However, meeting people did not come easy.
It required significant effort on my part to develop and build trust with people I was interacting with.
When I first arrived in Korea, I felt fortunate to have already made solid connections prior to the Fulbright.
In summer 2010, I interned at the newspaper company, The Korea Times.
The Korea Times was where I first realized my potential for research when I wrote and published news articles under my name.
Therefore, one of the first things I did was reacquaint myself with the company.
Through The Korea Times, I was able to gain several valuable connections that helped jumpstart my research.
My challenge came when interacting with people I had never met before, such as my host affiliate advisor.
In these situations, I had to work on gaining their confidence.
And I accomplished this through my actions and not words.
I was fortunate to have met a research advisor who was engaged in my research.
My advisor not only allowed me to audit his classes, but he also requested monthly reports from me documenting my progress.
In these cases, deadlines were crucial.
When auditing classes, for example, I made sure that I always arrived to classes on time and prepared.
Although this is very basic ethics, it was, nevertheless, important to me to show my advisor that I cared and respected him and his students.
When writing up my monthly progress reports, I made sure that my grammar was perfect, formatted them the way my advisor wanted them, and sent them in a timely manner.
In addition, I also observed cultural ethics by occasionally bringing gifts for my advisor.
Korea is a very giving culture, and gift giving is a common gesture of appreciation there.
In observing cultural ethics, I showed my advisor that I also respected South Korea’s customs.
These efforts eventually paid off when my advisor introduced me to a current member of the National Assembly and gave me the opportunity to interview him.
Engaging in conversation with a current National Assembly member provided me valuable insight into the Korean political process.
Speaking with him opened further doors for me, as he introduced me to more politicians and scholars who I could speak with.
Interior of the National Assembly of Korea
In other words, it was only after I built trust with my superiors when opportunities to meet and interview people followed.
This process opened the door for countless networking opportunities, which allowed me to make strong professional connections and build meaningful relationships.
Aside from my research activities, I volunteered at a local Buddhist temple in my area in my spare time.
The temple had a school that taught English to elementary and middle school students who came from low-income families.
I volunteered as an English tutor without pay.
Working at the temple gave me an opportunity to help foster the dreams and hopes of students who hoped to study abroad in the United States.
My time in South Korea was one of the most enriching and rewarding experiences in my life.
The Fulbright has contributed immeasurably to my social and personal development.
But what made my Fulbright experience truly special was that it gave me the opportunity to engage in Korean culture in a way I never had before.