This essay was written by Laura Becker, a graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois. Becker, who majored in Sociology, won third prize in the Research Center for Korean Community's Essay Contest on Korea and Korean Culture. Her essay, titled "Jeong Has Permeated: A Journey from Academic Knowledge to Intimate Attachment," focuses on the Korean concept of jeong, which refers to the invisible bond that is said to exist among all Koreans. Becker spent a semester studying abroad at Yonsei University in Seoul, and became well-acquainted with jeong as well as other Korean cultural concepts such as the strict age hierarchy and Korean group mentality (woori/uri). Through poignant insights and a clear, articulate, and organized writing style, Becker shares her experiences with Korea and Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective, which is an underrepresented vantage point in Korean- and Asian-American Studies.
Below is a short excerpt from Laura Becker's essay:
"As my senior year approached, I knew that it was important for me to travel to Korea and experience the culture and society that I had studied and experienced secondhand through my peers. I filled out stacks of paperwork and worked jobs and internships to earn money for my airline ticket and tuition in Seoul; finally, after more than a year of preparation, I boarded a plane for Korea. During my semester at Yonsei University, I went from standing in awe of Korea’s top figure skater to studying Korea’s economic and cultural influence to becoming intimately familiar with Korean relational concepts. One that grew particularly close to my heart was the idea of jeong, the connection and compassion that I had sensed from my Korean friends but not been able to articulate in words.
Eager to build relationships with Koreans like the ones I had at home, I joined a campus student organization early in the semester. Although the club was ostensibly for practicing English language, the first three meetings all involved drinking heavily. I did not drink much because my Christian faith warns against loss of control under the influence of alcohol. One of the meetings was a sporting event between our university and its biggest rival; because I was tired and sick, I only participated in the cheering activities about forty percent of the time. I found I was unable to fully participate in the subsequent drinking games because of my lack of Korean language skills and because I did not want to drink heavily."