Fulbrighters ― a give and take alliance

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Fulbrighters ― a give and take alliance

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In more than four decades of exchanges, the Fulbright Program has had great success in promoting mutual understanding between the United States and Korea and nurturing successful leaders.
The Korean alumni of the Fulbright program over the years have included many prominent figures in leading academic and government institutions in Korea. Some of the first Fulbright scholars include former Deputy Prime Minister O-Kie Kwon (a Fulbright scholar in 1961), former Prime Minister Lee Hyun-jae (1971), and former Ambassadors to the United States Han Seung Joo (1962), Han Byung-chun (1966) and Hong Choo Hyun (1968).
Although fewer American alumni have achieved the public noteworthiness of their Korean counterparts, they have nonetheless fulfilled the mission of the Fulbright program by returning to the United States to educate and increase awareness about other cultures. Following up on that tradition are the current Fulbright researchers in Korea. There are 12 American research scholars currently in Korea engaging in individual projects linking the two countries. The scholars represent an array of academic and professional interests, including politics, law, literature, journalism and art, and are gaining expertise in Korean affairs as well as giving back to the local community.
I took up my own Fulbright grant last fall and completed my first semester of a master’s program in Korean Studies at Korea University. Since then, I have been studying the role the English press plays in the international exchange of Korean culture and am currently working as an intern for the Life & Style department of the JoongAng Daily newsroom.
Recipients of Fulbright grants come from America’s top universities and are awarded the coveted Fulbright scholarship after competing in a multi-step application process in the U.S. The scholarship provides grantees with a stipend covering all living expenses, housing costs, medical insurance, research-related expenses and supplemental language training for up to a 10-month period. As part of America’s flagship international education exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Fulbrighters, as they are commonly called, become members of a large network of alumni across the world and carry the Fulbright name with them throughout their careers.
Post-Fulbright, I hope to continue working in Korea in a job that will allow me to apply the things I have learned from my Fulbright experience.
The Fulbright program in Korea, also known as the Korean-American Educational Commission (KEAC), is responsible for bringing American scholars to Korea and for sending Koreans to the U.S. During its 46-year history, the program has given Fulbright awards to over 800 Koreans and more than 500 Americans.
The majority of the Koreans who receive Fulbright awards pursue graduate study in the U.S. Fulbright Korea also brings Americans to Korea to lecture at local universities and work as English teaching assistants in local public schools.


Enlightening entertainers on sexual diseases

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Jennifer Manne holds a Bachelor’s degree in American Studies and Asian/Middle East Studies from Northwestern University.
She first came to Korea in 2005 while still a student and returned this year as a Fulbright scholar.
Her Fulbright research project is to examine Korea’s mandatory sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing policy for “special entertainers” in towns outside U.S. military bases. Ms. Manne is actively involved in research with several public health organizations, including the Korea Unaids Information Support Center and a public health center near the Osan Air Base.
For the latter, she regularly visits Songtan and Pyeongtaek, towns that border U.S. military bases outside of Seoul. In these towns, Manne spends most of her time conducting research and working closely with entertainers and local public officials to educate the entertainers about STDs and HIV.
Ms. Manne explained that “some women are really friendly and come in to talk or ask questions, while others don’t appear to take the information seriously or seem intimidated by me.”
The biggest challenge she has faced so far has been “developing at least a degree of trust with some women so they will really take the education materials seriously.”
Ms. Manne said her personal uncertainty about whether the project is helping in even a very small way creates self-doubt and that can be a challenge at times.
“But fortunately, I have received many positive reactions to the education program and many women have shared some of their experiences with me,” she said.


Fictional focus on realities of Korean conflict

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Irene Hahn, a recent graduate of the creative writing masters’ program at the University of Michigan, is spending her time as a Fulbright scholar writing a historical novel spanning the period of Korean history between the Japanese occupation and the aftermath of the Korean War. Her novel-in-progress, titled “One Hundred Views of Mount Fiji,” is about a young Korean’s hardship during this time and touches on themes of dislocation and persistent hunger.
Ms. Hahn says her motivation for writing the book was that she wanted to “educate the English-speaking world about the turmoil Korea experienced during the 20th century.” She says, “There are lessons to be learned there, regardless of your nationality,” and that since “fiction is a much more accessible medium to the public than history books, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to reach a larger audience than if I were to write something more academic.”
Ms. Hahn spends her time in Korea conducting research and doing firsthand interviews in Korean. She said she notices that the interview subjects “feel it is about time that the West took an interest in Korea and that perhaps the novel will help make a small stride fostering that interest.”
Ms. Hahn has spent a lot of time studying the Korean language because much of her research has relied upon her ability to utilize Korean-language sources.


Metalworker polishes skills and techniques

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Heather Bayless graduated from the Miami University of Ohio with a double major in graphic design and metalsmithing, and is using her Fulbright scholarship to support a graduate program in metalwork at Kookmin University in Seoul, Korea’s largest metalwork program.
An avid artist and designer, Ms. Bayless said she “was blown away by the technical skill, craftsmanship and Korean aesthetic” in metalwork here.
Ms. Bayless said she usually describes metalwork as jewelry design and making tableware, because most Americans are unfamiliar with it as an art.
In clarification, she said, “my jewelry design should be understood as ‘art jewelry’ that is to be collected rather than worn, not like something you can find at Tiffany’s.”
She recently showed four jewelry pieces in the Talente 2006 exhibition in Munich, Germany, a show that exposes talented artists under the age of 30.
Bayless’ work will be on display in Seoul in the future and in the meantime can be viewed online at www.heatherbayless.com.


OTHER SCHOLARS
Other projects by the 13 Fulbright research scholars currently in South Korea.
These include:a photojournalism project on North Korean refugees living in South Korea by Laura Pohl; a research project on the social and legal status of Southeast Asian immigrants in Korea by Jennifer Kim; a Ph.D dissertation project on governance and organized crime by Albert Hahn; a research project on the convergence with American jurisprudence of the Korean constitution by Samuel Yim; a research project on cultural rule and the Korean YMCA from 1919 to 1931 by Michael Shapiro; a journalism project on the Korean involvement in the Vietnam War by Soo Youn; a Ph.D dissertation on civil society and the politics of military bases in South Korea by Andrew Yew, and a study of North Korean energy policy and practice by Suzie Shin.


by Brett Stewart

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