- Cynthia Willuweit
- I start my graduate school application essays, "I wake up every day thankful for the day ahead." And it really is true. In the past year, I have researched in rural China and lived in South Korea. Whether witnessing Jae-sa, the ancient Korean tradition of paying respect to ancestors, or walking along a migrant fishermen community in a bay outside of Ningbo, China, my life has been full of incredible experiences throughout East Asia.
Upon my entrance into Valpo, I never would have guessed that I would be typing this essay from the apartment I share with a Korean family near Gwangju, South Korea. Even throughout the first half of my studies, I was a Spanish major and studied abroad in Granada, Spain. My interest in the region did not spark until my last three semesters, when I took a class on East Asian politics with Professor Lin as part of my International Relations degree. However, Professor Lin's erudite teaching and enthusiasm for the subject awoke my curiosity as well.
Then, in my last semester, I conducted research with Professor Lin and twelve other students in rural China. While there, I not only studied the role of rural entrepreneurs on urbanization and internationalization in Zhejiang province, but forged lasting contacts with university students and professors. I picked strawberries alongside rural farmers during the day, and dined with Chinese Communist Party officials at night. After this experience, I realized that my future research and career could not help but be focused on East Asia.
Fortunately, soon after my research in China, I received a Fulbright Teaching Assistantship to South Korea. Everyday, I witness and embrace the Korean people, language, and culture. Living near Gwangju, a hotbed for political activism, I will participate in the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Gwangju Uprising, Korea's definitive pro-democracy movement that ended with the loss of hundreds of students' lives. I have a new Korean family; complete with a little sister who emulates everything I do, and a host father that watches CNN compulsively, in hopes to improve his English. I have fifty-five Korean coworkers to say "Annyeonghasaeyo?" (hello) to everyday at school. And I have eight hundred students that now scream "Aloha!" after our class on different ways to say hello. I am in the midst of the most wonderful time of my life, and each day gets better and better.
I could not have obtained these amazing experiences without Valparaiso's commitment to East Asian teaching and research. At twenty-two years old, I have talked with officials of the Chinese Communist Party, seen firsthand the effects of Chinese capitalism, walked along the thirty-eighth parallel, and spoken to survivors of the Gwangju uprising. I now plan a career in East Asian research, hopefully with a government agency. With Valpo and the Department of Chinese and Japanese Studies' aid, I can look forward to an exciting career, backed by remarkable collegiate experience in East Asia.
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