Written by Katherine Lee, Junior Researcher ’08-09

During the 2008 Fulbright program year, several research grantees formed a group now known in its acronymic glory as the FKSDSG (the Fulbright Korean Studies Dissertation Support Group). Five doctoral candidates at various stages of the dissertation process decided to meet monthly to discuss issues pertaining to research, writing and life in Korea. As one of the founding members, I’ve not only learned a great deal about my cohort’s research areas, but also gained friendships that have extended beyond the Fulbright year. Our topics truly spanned the gamut.

Michael Sprunger of the University of Hawai’i and Franklin Rausch of the University of British Columbia (FKSDSG’s historians), looked at the changing means and meanings of punishment in Korea during the colonial period, and considered the relationship between nation, state, religion and the legitimization of force in the late Chosŏn dynasty, respectively. Josie Sohn of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, our film studies guru and anthropologist, surveyed the transnational film culture in contemporary South Korea. J.L. Murdoch of Bowling Green State University, our theater studies expert, informed us of her ongoing survey of Korea’s regional talchum (masked dance dramas). Finally, as the ethnomusicologist, I discussed my research on samulnori (a modernized Korean traditional percussion group founded in 1978), encompassing its reception and the role protest music played during Korea’s democratization movement. The breadth of these research topics is a testament to the exciting diversity of Korean culture and society — something that we were all drawn to during the course of our studies.

I believe the FKSDSG was successful for a number of reasons. First, we all got along and enjoyed each other’s company. Second, we made sure to mix the business of work and socializing. We rotated the duties of hosting dinners for the sessions and made meals a focal point, which is very important in a Korean context. Third, we were all engaged with the progress of each other’s work, whether by providing feedback on drafts or by assisting one another with contacts or research leads. Lastly, as we came to know one another better throughout the year, we moved from being a group of Ph.D. students to a group of friends. We were happy to celebrate the birth of Michael and Gwen’s son, Brian, during the year, and also to see Frank and Arlene’s son, David, become an object of teen girl adoration at the Jeju International Airport just prior to the Fulbright mid-term conference.

I’m happy to call the FKSDSG an incredible highlight of my Fulbright experience in Korea. I hope to see the group continue in future iterations.