University of Iowa

Profile: Dr. Hyaeweol Choi, Stanley Family and Korea Foundation Chair in Korean Studies

October 9th, 2018

Choi

Dr. Hyaeweol Choi is the C. Maxwell and Elizabeth M. Stanley Family and Korea Foundation Chair in Korean Studies. Read on to learn about her academic and personal journey.

Dr. Hyaeweol Choi describes her academic journey as “rather peculiar and unconventional.”

While pursuing her undergraduate degree in Korea in the 1980s, Hyaeweol was deeply engaged in intellectual political movements that advocated Korean scholars developing indigenous ways of knowing and creating a deeper understanding of their own history, society, and culture instead of constantly relying on Euro-American theories and methods.

With that background, she was resistant to the idea of going to the U.S. for her advanced studies. However, after being accepted to and receiving a scholarship to SUNY-Buffalo, she decided to take a chance and move to the U.S. When she told her colleagues of her decision, many of them were shocked, some even actively opposed the idea. Still, she decided to take the plunge and now looks back fondly at that decision.

“I think one of the things that I value most from the experience of studying overseas is how it presented me with opportunities to see familiar things from a totally different perspective,” she said. “It was certainly challenging to study as a foreign student in a language that was not my mother tongue, but it was one of the major turning points in my life, and it transformed me in so many ways.”

Hyaeweol had no intentions of staying in the U.S. after completing her Ph.D. Her family, especially her mother, wanted her to return back to Korea as soon as possible.

“We are living in a world where sensitivity, respect, and compassion about differences is vitally important. I want to create an environment in my classrooms where students will learn, collaborate, and inspire each other.”

“I did have concerns about gender discrimination in Korean academia, but it simply did not occur to me that I might pursue my career in the U.S.,” she said. “But life is truly unpredictable. As I followed ideas that interested me, one opportunity led me to another, and here I am!” 

Hyaeweol is now the Stanley Family and Korea Foundation Chair in Korean Studies. As a Koreanist with research and teaching interests in gender, religion, and transnational history, she says she is excited about working together with new colleagues in various departments, centers, and colleges.

“I understand that the UI fosters interdisciplinary collaboration. As I follow ideas and themes, my research has been crossing different disciplinary boundaries, and I feel the UI is a great place to continue to explore innovative research through collaborative work.”

Hyaeweol is also excited about enhancing the profile of Korea and Asia on campus and beyond.

“What I particularly appreciate being at a large state university like the UI is the diversity of the student population in terms of age, race, class and nationality,” she said. “We are living in a world where sensitivity, respect, and compassion about differences is vitally important. I want to create an environment in my classrooms where students will learn, collaborate, and inspire each other.”

As she and her husband settle into the community, Hyaeweol is learning to appreciate the intersection of internationalization and traditional Iowa life that Iowa City offers.

“In my mind, when I think of the ideal place to live, the keys are enjoying your work, making friends, sharing nice meals, practicing yoga, and having a little bit of entertainment. Iowa City and the UI seem to offer everything we need.  My husband and I are very much looking forward to creating a new life here in Iowa.” 

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