The conference, which was put on by the Research Institute for Comparative History and Culture,brought together more than thirty researchers, professors, and graduate students from around the world to present their academic papers and explore the theme of borders. Seoul seemed an appropriate backdrop. Less than an hour’s drive from the most heavily fortified border in the world, we discussed topics such as heritage, diaspora, border-crossing, and self-formation in a transnational paradigm.
When it came time to present my research, I found myself standing before a panel of professors and researchers, experts in my research area. Behind them sat a room full of Korean citizens who are directly impacted by the issues that I can only read about in books. Showing proper deference for the collective knowledge of the participants in the room, I cautiously set about explaining the points of my controversial argument that, contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of North Korean women migrating to China are not victims of trafficking, but rather travel there of their own volition to marry ethnic Korean men of higher socioeconomic status. I found my audience to be receptive and, after presenting, I was able to engage Korean experts on the subject in discussions of how to improve my hypothesis and conduct further research on the topic. This experience has enhanced my standing for research grants that will allow me to lay the foundation for a doctoral degree.
The perspective and the contacts that I took away from the conference would not have been available to me without the support of GWU including the Sigur Center and the East Asian Languages and Literatures Department (EALL). By taking advantage of funds made available by the University, in this case a Conference Travel Grant, I was able to fly to the other side of the world for a weeklong trip to present my research. Such travel would have otherwise been prohibitively expensive. In doing so, I have enhanced not only my understanding of my research topic, but also my standing for future applications to academic programs and conferences. Too often, such grants and scholarship funds go unused. Necessary components of any area studies education include both overseas travel and language study. Funds supporting such travel and study are available to complement GWU’s academic programs. I encourage any students interested in Korean language, Korean studies, or any language or area focus to seek out these opportunities and apply. Had I not done so I would have missed another great opportunity to enhance my own education and enjoy Korea’s hallmark rainy summer nights.