Seoul-Searching in South Korea: A World Literature Student’s Overseas Research Experience-In-Progress

Angie Min Ah Park

One mid-September morning, I boarded my flight from YYZ to Seoul, South Korea, embarking on my first, semester-long, overseas-research trip. Lifting off the tarmac, this exciting journey marked the end of a hectic summer, mainly spent completing my pre-dissertation requirements, and the start to a new stage of my doctoral study as a candidate. The butterflies in my stomach felt like a combined reaction to the newfound freedom after exams and the fear from the realization that, sink or swim, I am mostly on my own now. The concept of studying abroad was vaguely familiar to me as I had luckily participated in IWL 2018 in Tokyo. Still, this time around, the trip’s elongated length of 12 weeks and its goal of conducting my own project gave me some lurking anxieties. Nonetheless, I guess time flies when you are immersed in new explorations, and it has already been 6 weeks since that nervous 13-hour flight. This post will discuss my work-in-progress thus far, including the process of applying for the Mitacs Research Award and the goals of my research. Although my project is still ongoing, I share this post in case fellow World Literature students aspiring to undertake overseas research during their graduate studies may find this information timely and useful.

So, here we go. My trip was primarily funded by Mitacs, a Canadian, non-profit organization that supports the research innovation and career development of multidisciplinary students, postdocs, and professors. Their program includes global internships with partnering organizations and travel awards such as the one that funded me: the Globalink Research Award. I applied for this award in January 2019, after receiving a kind alert from Dr. Marie-Christine Leps, one of my dissertation-committee members. According to the award description, successful undergraduate or graduate students from Canadian universities will receive $6000 to conduct their own research projects at overseas universities for 12 to 24 weeks from a list of possible countries and regions. The funds support travel, accommodation, and research-related expenses, and up to $500 in student stipend.

The application process to this award, on the other hand, is necessarily extensive. It requires a form to be filled out, signed by the applicant’s home-university and host-university supervisors (meaning the latter has to be found by the applicant prior to applying); supporting letters from both supervisors; the host supervisor’s CV as well as your own; and of course, a research proposal, featuring your rationale, project background, project objectives, its significance, relevant citations, and a detailed timeline. I also had to resubmit my application approximately five weeks after applying (within Mitacs’ normal award adjudication time), mainly because my initial proposal for “research” included taking international-school courses, while the award criteria did not allow its recipients to take coursework, summer schools, etc. with the award funds. Nevertheless, Mitacs generously offered 14 days to submit a revised proposal, and this second proposal was thankfully accepted.

My research in South Korea, made possible by this award, explores: 1) the reception, translation, and dissemination of Korean diasporic literature at “home,” and 2) thematic, formal, or political connections among contemporary and modern Korean literatures and Korean North American literature. This short-term project further contributes to my dissertation that examines the forms, politics, and aesthetics of Korean (-) Canadian literature, reading such texts comparatively and transnationally as “world literature”– according to David Damrosch’s reader-centered definition of this term as “a mode and circulation and of reading” (5). Additionally, I wanted to observe the scholarly conversations regarding world- and diasporic- literature studies in South Korea, perhaps in relevance to the growing institutional and writers’ efforts to globalize Korean cultural works at home and abroad.

The weeks thus far have been both fast and slow. I have visited many literary sites and events, including the Literature and Translation Institute of Korea, the 8th Seoul International Writers’ Festival, the 15th Seoul WOW Book Festival, the Museum of Modern Korean Literature, the Kyobo Bookstore headquarters, and the magnificent Starfield Library, at the bustling commercial centre of the Coex Mall in Gangnam. I have also spent a few weeks exploring the online and offline archives of Seoul and Yonsei University libraries, expanding my knowledge of modern and contemporary Korean literature as well as criticisms on world and diasporic literature studies.

My goal in the upcoming weeks is to establish networks with scholars in South Korea specializing in literatures of the Korean diaspora and to gather publications and quantitative research on the sale, translation, classification, and reception of sample Korean North American texts in South Korea. By the end of this term, I aim to produce an article-length paper on the “place” of Korean (-) Canadian literature, among literary markets, “home” and “host” readers, and nationalistic and trans-nationalizing scholarly discussions.

As I am still in the midst of collecting data, I hope to say more regarding this topic next term. For now, this is all that I wanted to share: a glimpse to my research journey thus far, providing a more pragmatic view to its process than scholarly. If you have any professional or methodological advice on pursuing research abroad or resources on topics related to my work, I invite you to connect with me. In closing, I would also like to invite fellow students of the World Literature Working Group to actively share creative research opportunities amongst our members to contribute to our collective professional development and respective research. Finally, I want to thank Vanessa Evans and WLWG for generously inviting me to share my experience-in-progress.

To read more of my research and for my full bio, visit angieminahpark.com

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