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.