Undergraduate Profiles

Choosing a major is not an easy decision, and the motivations and circumstances that lead one to major or concentrate in East Asian Languages & Cultures are diverse in nature.  To help understand how several of our undergraduate majors ended up choosing to study in our program, we posed a series of questions through which we hope you will become better acquainted with them, the department, and your own attempt to answer “why EALAC?”


Joohyun Kate Lee

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What made you decide to major in EALAC, as opposed to taking one or two classes in the department?

I’ve always been active in advocating for North Korean human rights, and when I told my advisor this, he recommended I take an East Asian studies class. I did, and I liked it, but I wasn’t completely sure until I took Rachel Chung’s course, Colloquium on Major Texts. Professor Chung completely did away with the secret stereotypes I harbored against East Asia studies; she made every text so rich and interesting. I realized that East Asia is so much more complicated than Confucianism and Buddhism, and instead has layers upon layers that I can study and explore. That made the prospect of majoring in EALAC exciting and if I had to choose again, I would make the same choice again.

What were your initial expectations of the EALAC department? Did these change as you moved through the courses?

I think many people approach EALAC as a simple ‘culture studies’ major, and I think I had a bit of that impression as well. But through the years I learned that the studies pertaining to EALAC are much more refreshingly complicated and broader than that. Our department does a great job of making sure that EALAC majors get a well-rounded view of the history, literature, and politics of East Asia. Even though the physical area we deal with is limited to East Asia, there is an endless amount of material to explore.

If you’re writing a thesis, what is your topic and who is your advisor? What do you think about the writing process? Do you feel the EALAC classes fully prepared you?

My thesis is the about construction of emotion in Choson women’s writings, and my advisor is Professor Jung Won Kim. I’ve had a lot of fun with the writing process so far, and Professor Kim and her classes have been a great help. Although it does get difficult and frustrating at times, there is definitely a sense of achievement when I look at my draft and think that I am the first person arguing this issue in this way. Even though research is an overwhelming task at first, my past professors have made sure that I knew where to look and showed me how to look for the information I want. Additionally, the department assigns all of us to graduate students who help us with the writing process. Katherine Sargent has been helping my thesis and she has been a great help. It’s nice to know that you can email the draft to someone who has more experience writing and researching anytime, and they will read it and send you great feedback.

From here, what are you plans? How does an EALAC degree help you with your future goals?

I plan to go to law school, work for a while, and then hopefully work in policy around North Korean human rights. My EALAC degree has given me a solid foundation to work off from, I think for both a career in law and a career in policy. Most obviously, I’m more aware of the history and politics surrounding North Korea from my classes. But in addition to that, EALAC has equipped me with critical thinking skills, writing skills, and reading skills that I think will benefit my work no matter what type of work I choose to do.


Deanna Nardy

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What made you decide to major in EALAC, as opposed to taking one or two classes in the department?

Ironically, I was at Princeton when I knew for certain that I wanted to major in EALAC at Columbia. It was that hectic time for prospective students where you visit different campuses and finally decide on which one you want to be a part of. To me, all that mattered was learning Japanese and going to Japan. At a tea event, I asked an East Asian Studies professor who had the better Japanese language program, Princeton or Columbia? He answered Columbia.

What were your initial expectations of the EALAC department? Did these change as you moved through the courses?

To be honest, I thought I would be bogged down with China-related classes, and that Japan would only be mentioned in so much as it related to China. This was my experience prior to entering Columbia – my high school did not offer any Asian languages, and most people I encountered considered China to be “Asia,” and countries like Japan, Korea, Taiwan, etc. often only occurred as afterthoughts. Thus, I was ecstatic to find out that Columbia offered such a wide range of EALAC courses, particularly the fun and engaging culture classes.

If you’re writing a thesis, what is your topic and who is your advisor? What do you think about the writing process? Do you feel the EALAC classes fully prepared you?

For my thesis, I chose to explore the representation of black characters in Japanese visual media from the prewar era to the present. First of all, I felt blessed that, as a woman of color, this topic was immediately taken seriously during the first stage of proposal writing. Not all classes at Columbia (read: core) allow a person to bring all of themselves to the table. I am truly lucky that Professor Hikari Hori and my graduate advisor Myra Sun never dismissed my personal feelings and challenged me to look at the issue of racial representation from different perspectives. Besides these wonderful mentors, the best thing EALAC provided for my senior thesis was the opportunity to not only study abroad in Kyoto for a full year, but to take an independent research class. Without that experience, I do not know how much primary material I would have found, and if my Japanese would have been sufficient to make use of it in the writing of my thesis.

From here, what are you plans? How does an EALAC degree help you with your future goals?

The Japanese and American school years do not quite line up, but I am hoping to enter Kyoto Seika University as a Masters Student in Manga during the 2016 school year. If this works out, I’d like to complete their PhD program as well (where else could I become a Dr. of comics?!). All the while, I plan to focus on an original story, hone my artistic skills, and launch my manga career. What I am most grateful to Columbia’s EALAC department for is arming me with the Japanese language skills necessary to pursue my manga dream.


 

Patrick Woods

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What made you decide to major in EALAC, as opposed to taking one or two classes in the department?

I began taking First Year Japanese my first semester at Columbia after having spent a month in Japan during the previous summer. At that time I was more interested in pursuing the special concentration in Linguistics, with Japanese as the non-European language required for that course of study. However, it was Intro to Japanese Civilization, which I took with Professor David Lurie in the second semester of my freshman year, that really convinced me that EALAC – specifically Japanese history – was something I was really passionate about. Every course I have taken in the department since has been a fantastic and enriching experience.

What were your initial expectations of the EALAC department? Did these change as you moved through the courses?

When I first arrived at Columbia, I was entirely unaware of the incredible reputation that the EALAC department has nationwide, so I would say it was really my good fortune to stumble into it. The more courses I have taken, the more strongly I have come to feel that this is a department that more undergraduates should be taking advantage of. I feel that each successive class I have taken has in some way built upon previous ones in a meaningful way, and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with so many fantastic professors.

If you’re writing a thesis, what is your topic and who is your advisor? What do you think about the writing process? Do you feel the EALAC classes fully prepared you?

I am writing a thesis that examines a crucial work of Fukuzawa Yukichi, a prominent intellectual in Meiji Japan, within the broader context of Japanese nationalism, changes in governmental structure, and Western influence in the period spanning 1868-1889. I am working, fittingly, with Professor Lurie along with my graduate advisor Pau Pitarch Fernández, both of whom have been extremely helpful throughout the writing process. My prior EALAC seminars, especially my historiography methods course with Professor Gray Tuttle, were instrumental in preparing me for the writing process.

From here, what are you plans? How does an EALAC degree help you with your future goals?

I am graduating in December and currently in the process of applying to law school. I’ll be working at Bloomberg starting in January until (hopefully!) I am accepted to law school in the fall of 2015. My eventual goal is to combine my Japanese language and cultural education with a law degree to work in a firm that either negotiates with or on behalf of Japanese corporations, but at this point I don’t want to get too ahead of myself.