David Fields became interested in Korea when he learned of opportunities to teach English after earning his undergraduate degree. After teaching English in South Korea for two years, he began studying United States and East Asian relations at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and participated in CLS Korean in 2010. He now works at his alma mater as the Associate Director of the Center for East Asian Studies (CEAS). This year, CEAS started a series called ‘East Asia Now’ where they planned outreach events in communities in Wisconsin to foster mutual understand between East Asia and Wisconsin, especially related to trade tensions with China.
“The community of Wausau, Wisconsin in Marathon County produces 99% of the ginseng grown in the United States. 99% of that crop is exported, so the community is strongly affected by the trade war in China.”
David and his colleagues held community forums where local farmers could tell their stories of how the trade war has affected their lives. These forums also include economists, state officials, and experts on Chinese politics, who put current events in a broader context for the attendees.
“The flexibility you gain from living in another culture in such an intimate way like staying a host family, is applicable to every relationship going forward.”
David keeps up his Korean language skills by meeting weekly with a tutor, which was originally funded by the CLS Alumni Development Fund. He is working on a large translation project, which his tutor helps to edit.
While on the CLS Program, he was able to share with other members of his cohort and his Korean friends about his rural hometown in Wisconsin and used his background to dispel stereotypes of Americans that are prevalent in South Korea. Many of the Koreans he met viewed the United States as it is often portrayed in the media: urban, vibrant, and plagued by social problems such as gun violence and drug abuse.
“I was able to show them another side of the U.S.: a small, intimate rural setting. Many of the Korean students I met were focused on getting to Seoul, but I showed them that staying in a rural setting also has its benefits.”
David has devoted his career to U.S.-East Asia relations, and recently published a book called “Foreign Friends: Syngman Rhee, American Exceptionalism, and the Division of Korea.”
“I’ve spent 14 years learning Korean, much of it in the classroom. There is absolutely no substitute for an immersion experience like the CLS Program. Being a participant embedded in the host family, culture, and language, is an experience that is not replicable anywhere else.”
June 15, 2020