by Jiyeon Lee
Some might wonder why a Ph.D. student like me participates in the summer program that only allows participants to take undergraduate courses. This was the question I was asked several times when I was in Berkeley. My goal for this study-abroad experience was getting a sense of the subjects in which I have a great interest although I never had a chance to study. Feminist studies and an academic framework of handling race and ethnicity issues are two major interests I had since being a Korean woman living in Japan has given me a sharp awareness of these issues. So, I took two courses: one on gender & women’s studies, and the other on philosophy that goes over the philosophical talks around race & ethnicity. I found both courses more intensive than I expected because each class required me to read almost 30 pages of paper every day. Since I had no background in both subjects, I had to do extra research on the concepts appeared in the readings to fully understand them.
The gender & women’s studies class required a lot of work throughout the session; aside from the final essay, students were supposed to do weekly summary of the reading materials, two online discussions, and a group presentation. From these assignments and activities, I could get feedbacks not only from the professor but also from the peer students in the same class which I found greatly helpful in deepening my understanding of the course materials. Although this class was what made me stuck in the library when everyone else went out to enjoy some free time, it was an undeniably amazing experience that I became more confident using feminist and postcolonial cultural theories to analyze the everyday media practices by the end of the session. Since I was looking for a way to bring women’s studies aspect to my field of research, being in this class was an invaluable experience because it showed me some hints on how to connect two fields. On top of all that, the professor also introduced me to the other professor who is working on the comfort women issue in which I am interested as well.
Although the gender & women’s studies class required more work, the philosophy class was more challenging for me. The fact that I was the only international student in the class made me feel overwhelmed. Since I had to handle two courses, it was also hard to catch up on the reading materials. After a couple of weeks of struggling by myself, I went to see the student instructor to ask for some advice. Understood my situation, he made it clear which task I should put the priority on. Since then, things became a lot more manageable because I knew where to focus. I also tried not to hesitate to ask questions; I was the last one to leave the classroom for most of the time. When my grades improved from C+ in the first paper to A- in the last paper, I felt my effort finally paid off. It gave me a sense of fulfillment because I usually drop the course that I feel I am under the average but this time I eventually made it through.
Living in a dorm was another highlight in my life at Berkeley. Ihouse was not just a residence but more like a community. There I got to know many amazing friends from all different walks of life. Everyday routines such as having a meal and studying in the library were even more special with them. Having friends right beside me was what kept me strong throughout the extremely busy session. When I got free time, I always went out with them to watch a movie, go to a symphony, explore San Francisco, and try some authentic ethnic food.
Aside from all things I mentioned above, what I found impressive during my stay was how visible the social minorities are in the US. LGBTQ, women, Native Americans, and immigrants were celebrated and highlighted on many occasions. From the pride event held in San Francisco to the women’s corner in the museum I visited in Sacramento, I could encounter a lot of verbal and non-verbal messages empowering them. Although there are indeed severe backlashes against these groups, it made me think this kind of social empowerment might be what has sustained American society until now.
Finally, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to FUTI for giving me a chance to study in the US which has long been my dream since I was a little kid. It could not have been accomplished if there had not been your support. I am sure my experience in Berkeley made a big positive impact not only on my academic career but also on my way of living in general; I learned how to keep my motivation high even in an extremely competitive and challenging environment. I believe this would be the huge strength because if you can keep your motivation high in such a painful environment there is nothing that can stop you from improving yourself.