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By Greta Petry (March 1, 2007)

Kim Named a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow

Minjeong Kim

Minjeong Kim (Photo by Mark Schmidt)

Minjeong Kim, 32, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University at Albany, has been selected as one of seven 2007 Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellows in Women's Studies nationwide.

Kim, who was born in Busan, Korea, won the award for her dissertation on Gendered International Marriage Migration under Globalization. If that sounds complicated, think mail-order brides.

"So-called 'mail-order brides' can be an entry point that Americans understand," Kim said. "They have similarities, but there are differences too."

Kim's interest in the topic began when she watched a Korean news documentary on Filipina wives of Korean farmers in rural communities. Her study is based on more than a year of field work in two South Korean rural communities.

Since the 1970s, the South Korean government's promotion of industrialization and urbanization has overridden the possibility of systematic agricultural development, according to Kim. While strong rural patriarchal characteristics and growing employment opportunities in urban areas drove women out of rural areas, patrilineal and patrilocal traditions made a farmer's son stay in his hometown and look for a wife who would live with his family, which made farmers the last candidates women would choose to marry.

"Farmers in their late 30s and 40s who were not married were committing suicide," Kim said. The Korean media "blamed women for the farmers' desperate situation of not having wives, but the problem is that government has not paid attention to agriculture and has left farmers economically underprivileged," she said.

The national campaign to find wives for Korean farmers started in the 1980s and brought women from Korean communities in northeastern China, but the media began to report stories of Korean husbands abandoned by their "China brides." The women left to look for jobs in the cities. Afterwards, Korean farmers began to look for wives in other countries and, with the help of the Unification Church, found Filipinas, who have been active in the global migration flow. Thus Korea emerged as a latest destination country for Filipina international migrants.

Kim found that few empirical studies exist to broadly examine various experiences of marriage migrants. "My study will help us to understand not only the motives for marriage migration, but also marriage migrants' post-migration lives and their husbands' experiences and perceptions," she said.

Then, "using theories on globalization, international migration and gender, the study aims to show how international marriage migration is maintained and reinforced by the global economy as well as by gender ideology," Kim said.

Kim earned a bachelor's degree in women's studies from Ohio State University, and a master's degree in women's studies from UAlbany. "I stayed at UAlbany for my Ph.D. in sociology with the encouragement and recommendation of my adviser, Sociology Professor Christine Bose (who also chairs the Department of Women's Studies)." Kim considers both departments "home."

The Woodrow Wilson fellowship is highly competitive and remains the only national fellowship for Ph.D. students writing on women's issues in humanities and social science fields. Each of the seven fellows receives a $3,000 award from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

The fellowship is designed to assist students working on dissertation research, with the condition that they finish by 2008. While Kim has completed her field work, the fellowship will help her to publish her results to the academic community and the public.


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