background research

Getting Started: Background Research

It’s been two weeks since I’ve returned to Pittsburgh, and I am already knee-deep into my research. If you haven’t had a chance to read about my project, I will be examining the return migration of Korean-Chinese women to South Korea as migrant brides.

A little background information: The Korean-Chinese are Chinese nationals of Korean descent, and one of the 55 officially recognized ethnic minority groups in China. A large majority of the Korean-Chinese community resides in a province called Yanbian in Northeast China. In recent years, Korean-Chinese women from Yanbian have been migrating to South Korea in large numbers, mostly through international marriages to South Korean men in rural regions. I am interested in understanding the migration experience of Korean-Chinese women, and, in particular, I want to explore how they negotiate notions of kinship, gender and ethnicity to create a more flexible sense of belonging and citizenship.

I am really excited to be spending this summer researching the return migration of Korean-Chinese women, and I am very grateful to the Dietrich Honors Fellowship program for providing me an opportunity to pursue this project. I first became interested in the topic last semester, when I was taking a course called “Trafficking in Persons” with my wonderful adviser, Judith Schachter. Though I ended up writing my final paper for the course on Korean-Chinese marriage migration to South Korea, I felt that I did not have enough room to explore all the complexities of the topic. I believe this summer will give me the time and space necessary to develop my ideas further and make the necessary connections between the overarching themes. This research project is one of personal interest to me, because of its connections to my background as a female immigrant from South Korea. Throughout my life, I have also had to negotiate multiple cultural and national identities, fluctuating between life in South Korea and the United States. I believe that gaining an understanding of the Korean-Chinese women’s migration experience will provide me with an opportunity to reflect on and come to terms with my own experiences as an immigrant in the United States.

So what exactly does my research entail? A large portion of my research will be based on fieldwork, which will involve participant observation and in-depth interviews with Korean-Chinese women in Seoul, South Korea and Yanbian, China. I will travel to Korea in August to conduct research there for a month, and spend my fall semester in China through a study abroad program. During the final month of my study abroad program, I will have an opportunity to travel to Yanbian and conduct independent research. Because I will not be able to conduct firsthand research until the end of summer, my current goal is to read as much existing literature as possible. I’ve been spending a lot of time browsing through the East Asian Collection at the University of Pittsburgh’s Hillman Library, which I’ve found to be an amazing resource. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the amount of sources they had available on the topic, in both Korean and English. I’ve also been revisiting some of the older sources I had gathered last semester while I was taking Judith’s course.

As I learn more about the topic, I am becoming increasingly aware of its intricacy. So many different socioeconomic and cultural factors, such as South Korea’s rapidly aging demographic, rural gender imbalance, Korean ethnic nationalism and transnational economic inequalities, are entangled with one another to influence the lives of Korean-Chinese migrant brides. These factors are further complicated by the Korean-Chinese migrant women’s sense of agency, kinship relations and distinct cultural and ethnic identity. While I realize that the focus of my research will need to be more narrowed down in the future, the trajectory of my research will depend heavily on the findings of my fieldwork. So for now, I am trying to keep an open mind and absorb as much information as possible.

Diana Yuh 1
When I am not burying myself in the giant pile of articles and books, I find myself busy preparing for my trip to Korea and China. I finally purchased tickets for my flights this week (woo-hoo!), and the fact that I will be abroad for an entire semester is really starting to hit me. With the trip coming up so soon, I’ve been trying to reflect on my role as a researcher and to be more thoughtful about my methodology. My dual identity as both an insider and an outsider will put me in a unique position throughout my research process. In the sense that I was born, raised and educated in South Korea for 11 years, I could be considered an insider, but the nine years that I’ve spent in the United States also gives me the perspective of an outsider. I hope that I can balance these two identities to be more perceptive and sensitive to South Korean culture, but also to maintain objectivity as a researcher. I have to admit, I am feeling a bit nervous about doing fieldwork, but more than anything, I am excited to immerse myself in the field and listen to the stories of Korean-Chinese marriage migrants. I hope that my research will contribute meaningfully by genuinely representing and amplifying their voices, which too often go unnoticed.

Part 1: Background Research for Daaaaaays

So for the past week that I’ve been back on campus, I’ve been trying to eat everything Au Bon Pain has to offer… and starting to work on my fellowship of course.

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(Not sponsored by Au Bon Pain)

First thing to do on the summer fellowship checklist: more background research. I did search for some preliminary background literature when writing up my application, but now that I don’t have a hard deadline, I can take more time to go into all of the background research out there.

There are three topics I have been looking up for my project (in the context of romantic relationships): authenticity, willingness to sacrifice and affectionate touch. While my research project focuses on all three topics together, I have to see what researchers have contributed in each of these topics separately. Looking up past literature basically involves me reading a ton of articles and taking notes on their main points. This is as tedious as it sounds (especially when you get a 75-page PDF, while the average article length is 10 pages), but hey, I certainly learn a lot.

“Authenticity” generally means the degree to which you express your true self in what you do. Researchers have found that the more authentic you are, the more satisfied you are in your relationships because you are more open to others about who you are and are not afraid of hiding anything. On the other hand, people low in authenticity, who would rather hide their true selves from others and/or may not acknowledge who they truly are, are often dissatisfied in their relationships. This is because they feel stressed and conflicted that they are not showing others who they really are and are scared about others finding out about their true selves. That being said, forcing yourself to be authentic isn’t good either because even the manner in which you’re authentic has to be authentic, not just because someone told you so or you should feel like you should be authentic. I could go on about authenticity for days, but only so much can be said in one blog post.

Willingness to sacrifice is how willing you are to forego your own self-interests for your someone else’s interest. People do this all the time: from something as small as going to a restaurant your partner likes that you may not like to something as substantial as moving across the country for your partner’s job. (The term sacrifice makes it seem like a much bigger deal than what it can be, so on questionnaires, most researchers just say how willing you are to make a “change.”) While the more willing you are to sacrifice, the more satisfied you are in your relationship, the same is true in the other direction: higher satisfaction in your relationship can lead to being more willing to sacrifice for your partner. Willingness to sacrifice also contributes to a higher level of commitment, which also feeds back into relationship satisfaction. People can differ in why one is willing to sacrifice. You could sacrifice because you really want the best for your partner, or you only make sacrifices because that’s what people in relationships are supposed to do. This has to do with authenticity because authentically making a sacrifice can either be super good or super bad for the relationship. If you don’t really want to make a sacrifice but you do anyway, it can lead to inauthenticity. Hopefully I’ll be able to learn more about the relationship between authenticity and willingness to sacrifice in my research project.

Affectionate touch is exactly what it sounds like: touching others in a way that show you love and care for them. Touch has been shown to be not only great for relationships but also great for your health. Touch can reduce stress psychologically and physiologically, establish intimacy, increase trust, improve security, promote interdependence and closeness, etc. The Relationships Lab I work in has been doing work with affectionate touch for the past few years, and we’ve found that just imagining touch is good enough to reduce stress, promote security and encourage exploration (trying new things). In relation to authenticity and willingness to sacrifice, because touch can increase closeness, this may increase people’s awareness of their partner’s needs and increase motivation to attend to those needs. Being more attentive to partner’s needs can lead to a higher level of willingness to sacrifice and also to more authenticity because the person feels genuine about sacrificing for their partner. Again, hopefully I can see the specifics of this process in my thesis project.

So now that I have researched what have been done in the past (and will continue–researching past literature never ends), I now have to see how I can use this past information to guide me with the current research. As a sort of preview, the next thing I have to do is gather and create materials for my actual study!

On a completely different note, I found a cool article on attachment styles and pets, which has nothing to do with authenticity, sacrifice or touch, but it somehow popped up in my search results. This article is particularly interesting because you normally only hear about attachment styles with respect to other people, so it’s interesting how this concept applies to people’s relationships with their pets. Also, I have always wanted pets and never got to have any (my ideal pets are a Pembroke Welsh corgi and a Russian blue cat, but I will take care of anything), so any mention of a pet will get my immediate attention. Anyway, if just studying people gets boring, I know that I can study pets and people instead.