I am interested in examining questions related to life, illness, death and dying among South Korean elders living in Toronto. My overarching question asks, “What constitutes a good life, at the end of life?” I am also interested in questions related to themes of migration, language and communication, and the medicalization of death and dying. These themes are interwoven with changing Confucian ideas of filial duty, both as South Korea becomes more ‘modern,’ and as individuals emigrate from the Korean peninsula to Western nations.
My first month of fieldwork this summer was spent with community-based organizations, service workers, and community members, including elders and their families. I transitioned into July at a nursing home for Korean elders, which finally opened two years ago by the Korean community after thirty years in the making. Here I am currently conducting interviews, shadowing staff and volunteers, and participating in the daily lives of elders, staff, and community members who are part of the complex network that surrounds the long-term care center. I will spend the last month again in the general community, this time focusing my time with senior and community centers, churches, and multi-generational interviews.
As I face the halfway point in my fieldwork, I have started to consider with greater gravity the work I will produce at the end of my experiences here this summer.
Anthropological research has the ability, in its broad approaches, to address a specific problem, to investigate areas of social justice, to give voice to the marginalized, and to become an agent of change. I hope my project will, at least to Korean-Canadian elders living in North America, give voice to a small group of individuals and their allies, and perhaps to similarly marginalized communities.
In my original proposal, I wrote that, “in the end, I hope that my research will contribute to an emerging body of work investigating what it means to live, and to die, well…
[I hope to produce] a piece that will be both academically and intellectually stimulating for readers, while also accessible to the general public.”
Faced with writing such a piece, I want to be mindful of the responsibility I have – to give honor to the stories I have been privileged to hear, and be a part of; as well as to, on a greater scale, try and incite positive change in my community here. And so, I pose some questions to the Brown Swearer Center community – how will I ensure that my writing is able to shed some light on reality of life as a South Korean elder living in Toronto? How can I think critically about the questions I am asking and share my reflections thoughtfully? And finally, how can I write such that my research may raise questions in others, and help affect advocacy, ally-ship, and communion in my community?