When HIS205U History of China, Korea, and Japan meets for the first time tonight, its professor will be making a return to our department: Annie Berglund graduated summa cum laude from Bethel in 2013 with a double-major in History and Social Studies Education. After teaching middle school for two years, Annie moved to Seoul in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in international studies at Korea University. This fall she came back to Bethel as an adjunct instructor in GES130 Christianity and Western Culture, and is eager to teach her first History course this spring. Thanks to Annie for taking the time to answer some questions about her journey away from and back to Bethel!
Do you have a favorite memory from your time in the History Department as a student?
Let me set the scene. It’s the last history presentation of my entire undergraduate career. I labored for months making my PowerPoint slides and adding in many hours of research so that I could be prepared for the audience of my peers, my professors, and my family members. My boyfriend at the time, Mike, had one task: feed me this easy question at the end of my presentation to help me look better. Being one of the quietest students in class, he very slowly and mechanically raised his hand the second I ended the presentation.
In a painfully monotonous, rehearsed voice, he responded: “What was one interesting news article you read for your paper?”
The front row full of history professors couldn’t hide their laughter as they clearly saw through Mike’s poor acting and my pathetic scheming. Don’t worry, it does end well. We both managed to graduate and even married each other.
How did you decide to go to graduate school in Korea?
People ask me this question a lot: Why Korea? Every time I give an answer, it’s a little different, as there were so many factors that drew me to Seoul. Chief among them was my plan to study South Korea’s asylum-seeking policies. They are the first country in Asia to establish their own stand-alone refugee act outside of simply following UNHCR mandates. I hoped to study their recent act to see what loopholes remain and how those inconsistencies affected the acceptance of particular subgroups of asylum seekers, from those suffering from religious persecution to those fleeing state-backed gender- and sexuality-based violence.
A less academic answer, though? I wanted a little adventure.
What was your favorite part of living in Seoul?
A unique part about living abroad is that, whether you’re currently in your home country or currently abroad, you tend to see the other location through rose-tinted glasses. My gut answer is: “Everything! Everything about Seoul is my favorite!” In reality, adjusting to life in a country where I had few contacts, where the dominant language is one of the hardest for native English speakers to learn, and where everything from transportation to housing has different, unspoken rules is no easy task. But I also like a good challenge! I miss the feeling of anonymity when walking through downtown streets of a city of 10 million people. I miss jumping into taxis and making small talk in Korean with the ajeossis as they take me from cat cafes to outdoor shopping districts to mountain hiking trails. Mostly, I miss my Korean friends who – for two years! – constantly bent over backwards to help their American friend with the smallest and largest of tasks. True heroes in my book.
What’s it been like coming back to Bethel as a professor?
Amazing and terrifying. I will never get over calling my professors by their first names. Ever.
What are you most looking forward to teaching in HIS205U this spring?
First, I’m excited to discuss the role that women played throughout East Asian history. From the Roman patrician women who ushered in the Silk Road trade routes by driving the demand for silk made by seamstresses in far-off Xi’an, to the impassioned speech by Madame Chiang Kai-shek to the U.S. Congress seeking aid during Japanese attacks on China in World War II, we will study many cases of extraordinary women who — some for better and some for worse — influenced the narrative of East Asian civilization.
Second, I have that nervous-excited feeling about showing one of my favorite films to my students. Made in 2017, A Taxi Driver (or Taeksi woonjunsa) is one of the highest grossing films in South Korea to date. It centers on the experience of an average, “Joe Schmo” taxi driver in Seoul who unintentionally smuggles a German reporter into the city of Gwangju in 1980. The city, a stronghold for students protesting martial law, was barred off to the outside world while government troops fired upon the Chonnam University youth. For the world to see the footage of this massacre, the taxi driver and reporter risked their lives to get back to Seoul. The Gwangju Uprising (or the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement) is a jarring, brutal event that illustrates the price many ordinary people paid in East Asia for the sake of democratization.