Asia-Japan Today: Researchers' EssaysAll titles in the series

0520-03Logo_Asia-Japan Today

No. 4

In Order to Stay Connected to the World: As a Korean Diaspora Researcher


By Lee Jinhye (Special Foreign Researcher, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science / Project Researcher, Asia-Japan Research organization, Ritsumeikan University)

It has been 7 years since I came to Japan from Korea. I lived in Kyoto until I got my Ph.D. last fall, then this spring I moved to Ibaraki City in Osaka, where OIC (Osaka Ibaraki Campus of Ritsumeikan University) is located. I was employed as a special researcher by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and became a project researcher at Ritsumeikan University.

However, soon after the move, the situation caused by the new Coronavirus became serious, and in April, we were asked to not even go to university. I had just moved to a new place, so I was perplexed for a while. However, when I thought about it, I realized it is quite normal to be perplexed in a new place. I have been living in various places other than my own country, so wherever I am, I must feel a gap between my own identity and the environments surrounding me..

I am doing research on Korean diaspora communities scattered around the world. To be more specific, I have been engaged with a study of those who are usually called "Koryo Saram" in Kazakhstan, a Central Asian country. By the description "Korean diaspora researcher" in the title, I mean "a person who studies the Korean diasporas". However, after I wrote it, I realized that it can also mean "a researcher who belongs to Korean diaspora", because I myself have been living in Japan and I am planning to stay in Japan in the future..

It is natural for both diaspora persons and foreign students to wish to keep in touch with people who are like themselves. Perhaps, all people like to in contact with people like themselves in the first place. I am also in contact on a daily basis with Koreans in Kazakhstan, the United States, and other countries. I often exchange information and opinions with them about the situation caused by the new Corona pandemic. I want to know about how they live under the present Corona crisis..

At the time of the temporary collapse of Korea's collective immune system, Koreans around the world felt their lives were in danger just because they were Korean. The members of the ethnic Korean community of Kazakhstan realized that when walking down the street, passers-by would notice that he was a Korean and would stare at them as they passed. American Koreans have stopped going out for fear of being targets of violence. A Korean in Chile, South America, told me that the psychological pressures were so tense, even when there was no actual damage, that occasional outings to buy groceries made them nervous, and they payed careful attention to the atmosphere around them. I heard that Koreans in Japan also became nervous about being noticed so they would hide the masks and tissues they bought on their way home. A Korean in Taiwan told me that the Taiwanese government's initial measures were very effective and allowed him to lead a normal life just like he used to, and yet he never can reveal that he is a Korean..

This is just the tip of iceberg of problems for diaspora Koreans around the world. When news of the Corona outbreak spread in South Korea, after China, they all became very concerned, and they were finally able to feel relieved when the outbreak in South Korea had subsided to a great extent. It was the same for me..

However, all of my Korean diaspora friends are researchers and experts in their fields of specialties. That means, no matter where we live or what we do, we have to continue with our daily work. Our responsibility to our research was not changed by Coronavirus and will not change even after it ends. Whether we are Koreans or other diasporas, researchers, or other experts, we must continue to live our lives and fulfill our responsibilities..

In this Corona situation, my Korean Diaspora friends did their best in their own ways in each place to adapt to a completely different and unfamiliar situation. My friend in Kazakhstan has reported that he prepares online classes, unfamiliar to him until now, and continues to correct assignments by e-mailing to students who cannot attend classes online because of poor online access (Kazakhstan doesn't have as good internet facilities as Japan). My friend in the United States said that a shift to telecommuting could effectively mean 24 hours of work, and while she suffered from fatigue, she was more engaged than anyone else in her assigned job. A friend of mine in Japan says this is a good opportunity for her to work on her thesis. My friend in Chile said that administrative processing, which is difficult to deal with because of cultural differences, is more efficient when conducted online because it allows people to prioritize work without cultural friction, although it takes more time than face to face dealings..

Their daily lives had changed so much, and yet they were doing their best in their place every day. Listening to them, I felt that their power to adapt to their new daily lives had empowered me before I knew it, and I suddenly realized that this power can be a source which helps me to stay connected with Koreans, Korean diasporas, and the world..

As a member of the Korean diaspora living in today's Japan, I want to establish myself as a Korean diaspora researcher who continues to be connected with you, my colleagues, and the world.

(June 3, 2020)

Author's Profile:

Lee Jinhye: Special Foreign Researcher, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science / Project Researcher, Asia-Japan Research organization, Ritsumeikan University. Ph.D. (Area Studies, Kyoto University). Specialties: Central Asian Area Studies, Kazakhstan Studies, Korean Diaspora Studies, Kyoro Saram Studies. Among recent publications: “Identity Formation of the Korean Diaspora in USSR, Koryo-saram, in Perestroika Period: An Analysis Based upon Articles of Lenin Gichi, 1986 to 1991”, Kyoto Bulletin of Islamic Area Studies, Vol.10, 2017; 고려일보를 통해 본 현대 카자흐스탄 고려인 사회의 변용, 재외한인연구, 49, 2019; “Identity Formation of the Korean Diaspora(Koryo saram)in Contemporary Kazakhstan: An Analysis Based upon Articles of Koryo Ilbo”, Korean Diaspora across the World: Homeland in History, Memory, Imagination, Media and Reality, Lexington Books, 2019.