From daydream to destinationCamille Gladieux ’18
The first thing that I did when I got to Seoul, South Korea, for my monthlong independent research project — funded by the College’s Lynk curriculum-to-career initiative — was miss my bus stop.
I had bought an Airport Limousine ticket, a fancier version of the Peter Pan Bus, to take me from Incheon International Airport to Seoul’s Yongsan district. It did not occur to me that I had missed my stop until I realized that it was taking an exceptionally long time to arrive at my destination. I didn’t know you had to actually push a button to request your stop. I ended up showing the bus driver my ticket, and he balked. His English skills were limited and my Korean was close to nonexistent, but we managed to agree that he would drop me off at Itaewon, the foreigner district, conveniently only two stops away from the neighborhood of Yongsan.
Eventually, I made my way to the apartment that I would call home for the next four weeks, where I would desperately begin searching for participants to interview for my project. My summer plans had not originally included traveling across the world to conduct independent research. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision.
Night two in Seoul: exploring the late night food markets
Driven by curiosity
As a sophomore, I had daydreamed about researching a question that kept creeping into my head: Why were so many South Korean adoptees in the United States returning to Seoul? My question stemmed from taking a class called Asian American Feminisms at the University of Massachusetts Amherst as part of the Five College Consortium. Through it, I was exposed to a New York Times Magazine article, “Why a Generation of Adoptees are Returning to South Korea,” and Eleana J. Kim’s book, “Adopted Territory: Transnational Korean Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging.”
My curiosity continued to grow. As a Chinese-American transnational adoptee, I wanted to know why this phenomenon was occurring and if, in the near future, Chinese adoptees would begin returning to China to live and work for extended periods of time. This curiosity stuck with me for two years, and it was strong enough to push me a little further than any other desire I had ever felt before as a student.
In the spring of my junior year, I attended an Institutional Review Board information session on a whim, and the rest is history. Conducting my research was all I could think about. The info session explained how the board, a committee at the College, must approve any directed or independent research project that involves human subjects and employs systematic data collection with the intent to contribute to generalizable knowledge.
I had already applied for Lynk funding, but without a clear idea of how I would use it. Now, I just had to figure out how to secure the board’s approval and how to get to South Korea.
Destination: South Korea
Over the next month, I managed to convince my academic advisor, Tim Malacarne, a visiting assistant professor of data science in the sociology department, to be my research mentor. I bought my airplane tickets, reserved an apartment via Airbnb, and crossed my fingers and waited for the committee to approve my research. On May 11, just two days after moving out of my residence hall and one day after arriving home in Miami, I was on a plane traveling to spend what would be the most emotionally and intellectually challenging month of my life.
When I reflect on my time in South Korea, I still cannot believe that I managed to turn a daydream into a reality. Was it irresponsible? A bit. I knew no one, I had yet to line up any interview participants and I didn’t know the language. But, I did it. I survived. I found and interviewed — with much help from a Mount Holyoke alum, Eugénie Elie ’16 — 14 participants. I learned a bit of Korean, made friends and met older adult adoptees. I connected with two other alums, Iskra Batista Poblete ’15 and Yulii Kim ’14. And I spent an entire month in a country with strangers who look more like me than my own family.
Camille Gladieux ’18 (second from left) on a food tour guide trip
Furthering the conversation
I recently completely the first draft of my thesis, “Boomerang Adoptees: Making Moves in South Korea,” using all of the research I had collected on my trip. I will discuss my findings during the College’s Senior Symposium and defend my thesis in late April. My goal for this project is to add to the conversation on why Korean-American adoptees return to Seoul, as well as shed light on undocumented adoptees who are deported back to their countries of birth.
There is so much to say about my experience abroad, yet words fail to fully embody how it felt. I have attempted in this article, but I could write pages upon pages of my experience. I don’t think I could have gained the same independence, satisfaction and self-actualization in any other way. My time at Mount Holyoke prepared me with the education and tools I needed to travel and research — and successfully undertake one of the most challenging moments of my life.
Photo at top: Camille Gladieux ’18 at Namsan Seoul Tower