I have reached the peak and have begun the descent of my journey.

There are still several places to visit, but as per terms of the contract, my final report is due two weeks prior to my departure, so that leaves me little time to do much else other than add a few details from pending journeys. The bulk must be finished, and I feel as if I need more time- but it seems that’s always the case.

There are many things I feel comfortable observing, and have grown accustomed to photographing and openly watching behaviors and patterns. I am sure that I seem like a blatant tourist, continuously photographing the simple and the mundane, things such as common signs and plants growing in the sidewalk, side dishes, and the sea. I am simultaneously mesmerized and studying, which makes for an interesting combination. It would help if I hadn’t fallen so deeply in love with the country and the people. As any scientist knows, distance is a base requirement for observations and critical analysis. I feel I will need to put my observations in check, for they will be overly complimentary and deficiently critical.

I have learned so much more than what I have aimed to study for, and it is difficult to convey the depth and breadth that living here, even for the briefest time, has offered. There are activities which are favorites, such as watching the sunset and being able to see the sea every morning and every evening have provided opportunities for observational analysis. Watching the patterns in a routine basis provides information which can be transferred and applied in other aspects. Likewise, on the opposite end of the spectrum, it is difficult to analyze integral cultural patterns which are deeply-seated and provide an enculturation basis for societal members of this culture. One of the largest aspects that remains beyond my grasp is the timing of flows and behaviors. There are always unstated expectations in every society for how things move, flow, and the length of time it takes to initiate, do, or complete any given activity. For example, meals often come in stages, and have dishes which are meant to be eaten in a specific manner. I have been scolded for eating a side dish as a main course item when I only wanted that particular item. Likewise, in another instance I thought the full meal was served, only to find two more courses were served.

There are situations here that are taken for granted, and I envy the ease of which Koreans are accustomed to these instances. One aspect which has hit home for me has been to be able to witness the wearing of traditional clothing out in public with acceptance and honor for their culture and heritage. As someone who has worn traditional Native regalia in public in the U.S. and on multiple occasions doing so has been scorned, flipped off, and “war whooped” at, I admire the retention of culture by Koreans, the shirking of the colonist rule as well as western influences to diminish this. I am very pleased to watch as youth and elders proudly display knowledge, performances, and embrace the cultural outfits to events and that it is supported socially, not just in specific instances.

One of the events that has held the most impact has been to be able to have the opportunity to visit islands, and learn from an expert in this area. I remain mesmerized by the uniqueness and the strength of the islanders, and the upholding of cultural value systems which are the backbone and guiding light simultaneously. I have found the islanders to be unique and possess a perseverance that is reminiscent of Native tribes’ survival techniques. The Traditional Ecological Knowledge that remains intact is impressive to say the least. It has a depth and breadth that cannot be found inland, and the study of this aspect of the culture unexpectedly piques my interest. The similarities to coastal tribes is resoundingly familiar.

Another very pivotal moment has been the invitation and witnessing of traditional calligraphy. I was extended a very special and private invitation; weeks prior I’d been asked what my name meant. I had carefully explained that as Natives we have been forced to use English names which have no meaning, and few of us retain traditional names due to governmental colonial oppression and forced removal of our culture which included our names. I explained how my given English name “Samantha”, meant “flower” and “listener”, but how nicknames were more prevalent, and that my father has called me “sunshine” from the time of my birth.  At the time of inquiry, I had no idea why there was such interest.

Later, upon arriving at the event location, I was told I would be receiving my name. I sat watching and learning, it was explained to me how Chinese characters in the past were meant for the upper ruling classes, but how these are maintained to convey a variety of meanings in traditional practice to this day. I sat watching, but unknowingly participating as glances to me and simple questions were asked, such as “what brings you happiness” and to that of my roommate: “is she kind?”. Over an hour of contemplation went by, soju and homemade berry wine adorned the men’s fingertips as the intricate detailed debate regarding which characters representing my name were carefully selected, and ultimately, held unique my identity thereafter. There were many rejections, on the basis that they were inadequate, ill-suited, or did not hold enough beauty. It was if they were speaking of someone else, until I was led into the other room again to witness the art spring to life. Laughter, smiles and hand-holding adorned the evening; I was moved to tears and was speechless to realize the event that had just transpired, as well as the reverence this group of people held for me. In my culture, names hold power, and to have an event that was so similar, to attend my own naming in a culture where I am cared for as deeply as those who are my own, was an honor that I will hold in my heart forever.

It has been the small things, the things which cannot be held, bought, or requested yet have been offered so copiously and freely that have touched my heart, and made this experience so richly rewarding. Experiencing boat rides and running my hands in sea waters I never imagined touching, to warm laughter as an alarm. Rides over the bridge, witnessing the ship of a nation’s heartbreak, to the ceremony for healing walks home. Kind smiles, patience with my questionings, favorite bands and traditional music. Normal nights, dinners with ‘family table’ discussions, food offerings that range from simple to complex, and watching bottle tops being opened with chopsticks.

I have enjoyed every second of my time here, and have been allowed to do exactly what I love, in a way that I was not prepared to do it in, and a way that has never been done previously. From the moment my key opened the apartment door on the second day, a chorus of “Samanta!” resounded happily, every time since. Opening the door is just a single instance the happiness my heart will forever hold. And only one of the many reasons it will be excruciatingly hard to leave.

It’s difficult to explain how leaving the culture that surrounds you, to experience another is a leap of faith, and seems much like jumping off a cliff and hoping there is a soft landing, but when you look down you can only see clouds, and the ‘end result’ is unknown.  Being a researcher, one gains comfort in that unknowing leap of faith.



One Third

I have been here one month already and the time is flying by. I am just beginning to feel as if I get the hang of things, and be effective in my observations, and yet already I am prepping my final report out of necessity.  Life speeds by anyway, and I find myself frustrated at not having enough time to stop and observe in the ways that I prefer. My natural instinct gets lost amidst watching, listening, processing, piecing together, and analyzing. My brain works nearly constantly, and I find myself tired, yet knowing there is always more to do, and knowing if I fall behind it will be nearly impossible to catch up.

Simple things remain a stable theme, as I analyze the most mundane tasks and interactions, which have been met with slight irritation at my “slowness”. I find the commonplace taken-for-granted actions and behaviors can illustrate culture in a variety of ways, but many people don’t consider these mundane aspects important enough to devote time toward. It is a difficult road to walk, knowing I want to fully analyze the environment in the way I specialize, but also conforming so as not to offend and “stand out”. I am rarely alone, and the constant level of being with someone is offsetting at times. I am very social by nature, but also have a tendency to need alone time, so when writing or processing I have a tendency to ‘hole up’ alone and had not anticipated the level of social cohesiveness. The first two weeks I was on my own and explored and roamed in surroundings to my heart’s content, returning to an empty space. Now, I am honored to be able to live with two amazingly wonderful women who endure my never-ending quest to learn the language, and I wake to laughter most days.

I find myself wondering about other anthropologists’ methods of field work, and yet know each research develops their own method that works; it’s a uniquely individual process even if the bases are consistently the same.

I find myself tripping over the same difficulties: time differences, social media management, email, and language barriers. Some others that have arisen have taken me by surprise as well. My panache for coffee has been a topic of joviality, as well as “concern” over my health.  I have been accustomed to having coffee and only eating one meal a day prior to arrival – this has changed however. It has been clearly stated that I am meant to eat, throughout the day at meals, and my eating habits have been watched. This aspect of individualism is difficult for me to surrender, to be honest. In the U.S. eating habits are considered a ‘semi-private’ issue, and not up for in depth discussion, but I have found that very different here. Hence, I am “learning to eat”. The multiple meal schedule is more difficult than any “foreign” food choice that I am offered.

There is a boardwalk near the residence, and I enjoy walking it, taking in the sunset when I can. The other day my roommate and I caught dinner at one of the local food trucks, and watched the sunset over the Yellow Sea – talk about a bucket list item! I find it hard not to lose myself in the moment still, and try to be “on” all the time, as wearying as it is I know my time is short.

I have been getting questions, and want to use the space to address some:

Is it like the Kdramas you’ve seen?

Yes, and no.  It’s real life and so I find it better – I am not one that is taken with Hollywood, or the false sense of reality so it makes it better for me to be able to see real life people and activities that aren’t scripted and constructed to illustrate certain aspects. Some things are the same, such as: there are chopsticks everywhere, there are many food carts, the delivery drivers zoom all over the city so you do have to watch out for them, soju is very popular. However, just like American productions it varies – most Americans don’t all drive Corvettes, live in multi-million dollar houses, and aren’t CEOs.


Have you seen people giving piggy-back rides?

Yes, once. While we were at dinner the other night I saw a young couple on the street, and the guy was carrying the girl. However, I suspect it had to do more with “love culture” than “South Korean culture” – if you know what I mean. *wink*


What’s the strangest thing you’ve eaten?

Silkworms. They are surprising in taste and I wasn’t sure I would be able to get them down, but at the urging of my roommate I tried them. They have an earthy-plus-nutty flavor and are slightly crunchy on the outside. I also find sashimi very good, and one of my favorite foods is seaweed.

Have you been hit on?

Yes, several times. This question makes me laugh, but also a valid question and an interesting “process” to share. Native men have a certain way of approaching and “courting” – I have attributed this to the differences in matriarchy versus patriarchy and the adherences to norms in cultures and subcultures. At one point several years back I’d proposed studying the differences between American non-Native dating styles versus Native. When dating non-Native American men it is always an ‘interesting’ courting process to figure out, and then add in a second and third culture it is a somewhat confusing process.  The first time occurred coming over was on the plane and I felt confused and unsure of the ‘tone’ of the interaction (apparently I have a unique look that is intriguing, and not thought of as classic “American”-  I’ve heard multiple comments about not having blonde hair). As variations occur, you can sometimes ‘feel’ when someone is interested, but sometimes not.  Likewise, while I am not opposed to having dinner or coffee with someone on a personal level during my stay, I am here for work, so I am highly focused on other aspects rather than courting procedures.

Where’s the best place you’ve been?

Mokpo. I really REALLY enjoy this city and the university that I am aligned with for the duration of this time. The science is good, the city is really enjoyable to explore, and I am surrounded by/in wonder. There are fantastic sights and the people have been kind and wonderful. And, I get to live by the sea. Cheongsando Island would come in a close second – it was interesting geographically, the people were fantastic and had a very similar feel to tribal communities. However, I would like to visit more places and have not travelled extensively in the country yet.

What do you miss most about the US?

My family and friends, my People, and my cat.


Mermaids and Unicorns


Each time I go out for field research, I forget how grueling it can be. There are never any easy shortcuts, and there are never, ever, any guarantees. It is a gamble, and I think the thrill of the unknown – the pinnacle of catching the most elusive information data is what drives those of us in this field. I have met others who bank on the safer sides in research studies and the expressions I have seen are a wide range from quizzical “what the hell…” to a ringing affirmative “that’s crazy”.

There are long drives, long flights, long lines, even longer lonely nights, worn out shoes, more dinners from convenience stores that can be counted, and wearied spirits to be able to do good field research. It’s the proverbial elusive unicorn that inspires motivation. But when you catch the unicorn, the pain is forgotten.

The thrill is in the hunt – knowing in your gut the data is there, but reliant on utilizing your multiple skills to unearth. It is communication at its finest, knowing which words and phrases connect, being able to read people, being able to anticipate reactions and answers, and analyze constantly as you proceed through the active research.

It was mostly the same expressions I received when I announced I was leaving to do field research in South Korea, without any fluency, without any contacts to speak of, and without a background in any Korean factions of academia.  It was knowing that everything I had read, everything I had seen, everyone I had asked, led me to this. I just knew, just as I did when I embarked on my doctoral research, and fortunately was able to articulate it in a proposal. I KNEW. I had seen it, just as with my dissertation, had faith I could bring it forth, and in the midst of some very big names in academia telling me “this is impossible”, I produced the said “impossible”.

This journey, began in the same way. It didn’t matter whom I knew, how well I had done in the U.S., or what had transpired professionally. It began with an ‘I know’ that didn’t make sense to others, but I was seeing cultural data patterns that were impossible to ignore and a culture that offered what nothing else has. A tie, a thread of binding and an understanding that has been impossible to locate – until now.

I knew when I started, even though it seemed irrational and uninviting to travel to a foreign land where I knew no one and could not access any of my traditions, my family, or anything comforting.

And yet, I am lonely in this field. When I have questions, I must wait for my friends and colleagues who are two or three time zones away to finish projects and have a few minutes to spare. We all juggle the professional game, and everyone understands the process of “waiting” for answers or simple camaraderie. It’s a journey that is definitely worth it, but there have been multiple conversations within the past year, both in and outside of academia, about how I am the only woman doing TEK at this level, and arguably the only one in the state of Oregon.

For me those trade-offs are worth it, not having a colleague whom I can pop in their office and “talk shop” with at any time, not having a backup person to rely or convene with on new research, or politics surrounding the discipline. It’s a trade-off to get to do what you love, and are really good at it, and yet be isolated.

So when this journey initiated, I didn’t think it was a reality. When the email arrived that the incredible Dr. Sun-Kee Hong was willing to work with me, and then later when the Korea Foundation accepted my proposal, I knew, just as I had known before.

I am merely weeks into this fabulous journey, and yet a few days ago, with the help of Dr. Hongs’s incredible skill, I found myself in the midst of a situation that seemed surreal, and was definitely life changing. The day seemed ordinary; we had arrived and were talking to people, when in a matter of minutes, were on a boat headed out to sea. Camera in hand, I was lost in the flurry of the beautiful Korean language that surrounded me, but as the boat came to a stop, the Mermaids emerged.

One by one, Haenyeo appeared out of the sea and continued working bringing in their haul despite the near-constant clicking of camera shutters. I somehow managed to breathe, as I was in the middle of magic. I had traveled half way around the world to be witness to a subculture that is breathtakingly magnificent, and spiritually tied to every strand of who I am culturally.  I was gifted with raw abalone,It is nearly impossible to describe being honored in a way that is irreplaceable, and being able to be around the women who gather the seafoods in one of the most dangerous professions in the world.

I am grateful beyond words, there are not enough deep bows that I can offer, nor any giftings that can show the most heartfelt, deepest respect and honor for this experience. And yet, there is connection, by way of the elusive captured unicorn.

On the Move

(photo credit: Chisholm Hatfield  – at Seomun Market Daegu South Korea)

It’s hard to believe that this is already week two! I take pause every single day – every  single day to pinch myself that this in fact real, and I offer gratitude and prayers for this opportunity. It’s truly amazing, and I remain incredibly grateful.

I’m currently in Daugu South Korea, which is in the southeast quadrant of the country, in the North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea.

My time has not been as orchestrated as I had planned – as if anything with research ever is – but I’d hoped to carve out time on a regular basis and am hopeful that I will be able to in the upcoming months. For the past two weeks I have been in several different places and have been on the go. I wake in the morning and leave, camera and phone (translation and maps apps) in hand. Most of the time I have a planned itinerary, and most of the time it goes out the window through some turn of events.

The past two weeks have been a steep, sharp, hard learning curve, and I have gained an appreciation of the most simple tasks in life that we take for granted.

As I’ve said before, I speak virtually no Korean, and accepted the Fellowship from the Korea Foundation knowing this non fluency would better assist me in analysis of visual material, as well as picking out information that was taken for granted because of accepted practices and “norms”.  I planned for this, I considered this carefully in terms of my research project and field work and interviews and consistency in data. I discussed it with my Seonsaengnim, the incredibly talented and intelligent Dr. Sun-Kee Hong and moved forward.

What I failed to take into account, was living as a non-fluent foreigner. We take language for granted. The most simple of tasks become daunting.  Laundry was a huge accomplishment – the washing and drying machines are all in Hangeul! My brain works overtime to try to read, figure out, and process the simplest of information. My brain is language-oriented, but it is not an overnight process. This makes me more tired than I am accustomed to being, and I find that I get frustrated and want this acclimation process to be hurried, but remain sleep-deprived.

Eating is another fun guesswork task, though I have words for “this please” and am more highly dependent than ever on pictures. For the first week or so, I have relied solely on convenience store foods. I have ventured into new foods and tried cultural items, but my first night out at a Korean BBQ was exiting and the taste of warm food was exhilarating! I had guides who showed me the ropes and explained the entire process of selection, the differences of meats, and the cooking process. I was so happy to have warm food again I was open and tried blood sausage, makchang, and sesame leaves. During dinner I was also schooled in the ways of “Bali-Bali” (‘hurry hurry’ culture) and why that has come about.  I am ever-so-grateful for the patience of this country’s people and acceptance!

The biggest test was the failure of my laptop. I’d purchased a new laptop three months ago, and it began failing only two days after arrival. The United States is not as “internationally savvy” as we would like to think. between time zones, firewalls, and protocols for preventing discussions in English because I was in Korea, I finally had to break down and go buy a new computer to be able to work. The search was difficult; in one Samsung store, I waited for over ten minutes and two store clerks refused to even attend to me, while there was no one else in the store, but the next day at an LG store I used a translation app and seamlessly purchased and walked out with a laptop within thirty minutes. Needless to say I was highly irritated it was a cost I (and Dell!) should have been able to prevent. Dell has not provided much support, and via emails I am being advised to call the Korean support center though they do not know if anyone speaks English at said center.

I am more interested in being out and learning and doing my work than sitting fighting with the laptop or trying to find someone who speaks English. This process has taken two hours or longer when I have tried. So the other day I chose to go see Seomun Market ( ) ( one of the oldest and the largest markets in the country. I was told by a non-Korean that it was a sight to see, how generations could be witnessed working side by side, and how that is rarely seen. I found this interesting, and again the parallels to Native culture are very apparent, since Native vendors often have three and sometimes four generations working a booth at pow wows or in a family store. This seems very common to me, but to hear how striking it is to a non-Korean that they were explaining the uniqueness of witnessing tradition.

I chose to travel by monorail from the market, (a brave decision as I have been lost more times than I can count – please don’t tell my already-stressing Mom!) and managed to find the right line. One of the clear challenges in my life has been that I never learned to take public transportation, since I lived far outside of any place where it was available. I find this to be a clear disadvantage as I travel and conduct research work.

As I stood waiting to get on, a Halmeoni (Elder woman) told me to go in front of her, and kept waving me in front of her. (Koreans use a motion with palms and fingers facing downward and moving in toward their bodies, rather than how Americans use palms and fingers up and motion toward bodies or to the side.) I kept bowing, and repeated “thank you very much” but was unable to force myself to walk in front of her. Dilemmas like this make it difficult for me here, whereas westerners and non-Natives might find it much easier to take advantage of such kindnesses.

I walked on and automatically grabbed a handhold and stood, though my feet were tired and legs were achy from walking so much through the market (my step counts have been exceeded by almost double nearly every day! Hooray! And ouch), while I was standing I realized I subconsciously noticed the Elders sitting, and while there were empty seats, I automatically mentally relegated those for Elders and again subconsciously reverted to my Native ways. Two stops later, an Elder stood up and motioned for me to take his seat. While I thanked him and politely said no three times, he kept motioning. Elders were seated all around, and my blood pressure rose, I think I started sweating, and desperately wanted to melt into the floor. My mind started smoking, trying to decide how to avoid sitting amongst Elders, a place that I did not earn nor deserve, and yet how to not refuse an Elder’s request. I was taught that an Elder’s request should not be turned down with the exception of very few instances.

I chose to sit after he kept motioning, and then told me to have a good day and he hoped I smiled. He then got off at the next stop, and I was thankful other Elders got on so I could get up and motioned for them to have the seat. I felt redeemed, illustrating that I knew “ways” that are in accordance with Korean protocols as well as my Native traditions, but again wished I could speak fluently to insist he take the seat.

Tomorrow, I am moving again, a four hour bus ride and then to a new shared living space, which will mean more learning curves! I will be near the sea, and look forward to being near the ocean and seascapes.


I managed somehow to get through TSA as tears rolled down my face. I managed to keep track of my bags, and retie my shoes. I somehow found the right gate.

I must have texted my family over 200 texts in under 2 hours before the plane left Seattle. I watched the ground as we took off, for as long as I could see it. I sent many prayers, and the Halmeoni (Grandmother) Elder who sat next to me was patient and kind watching my tears roll.

Leaving my lands felt as if a piece of me was being torn from my being. I have never had any inclination to leave Our lands, nor have I desired to travel internationally. Until now.

The Korea Foundation  accepted my proposal to conduct research, and I am able to work with one of the best Korean TEK researchers, Dr. Sun-Kee Hong of Mokpo National University This is a researcher’s dream, and an opportunity that is definitely once-in-a-lifetime.

The biggest challenge was that I had to leave all of my Eagle Feathers at home. I pray and use my feathers daily, so the thought of not having them was intimidating and frightful. I also could not bring any prayer material such as sage or sweet grass.

The courage this has taken, to leave everything behind and do the work I was directed by my Elders to do, is taking almost all of my resolve and heavy, heavy reliance on faith. Spiritual material items assist my everyday process and I am unclear what I will find in another land, amongst people who have never shared my experiences as a Native American.

Nevertheless, I remain excited and am ready to experience and learn that which Creator has brought me.

Getting the hang of things… or not

We often forget that embedded into the societal and cultural expectations are the norms that are enculturated. Things such as knowing where to go to buy an item, or how to stand and wait for transportation such as the bus or the subway.  I am used to waiting in semi-structured lines, acknowledgement of who arrived prior to me (because in elementary school we were taught that “Cutters” were the equivalent of Cheaters), and  allowing that person on first (with the exception of an Elder close to me).

Waiting for the bus was en masse yesterday, I was coached to run toward the bus, and make my way in. This negated pretty much everything I had been taught.  When I exited, I waited for several Elders, and happened to catch the piercing stare of a younger person on the other side because I had not exited before the Elders. Perhaps there is a norm that I am unfamiliar with, since other line structures have such clear organization to them, such as for purchasing items in a store, or while getting coffee.

The bus ticket is actually a card that is monetarily loaded similarly to a phone calling card. I purchased on with the intent of leaving it in the plastic seal. I produced it upon request to someone, with a polite bow it was taken from me and removed from the plastic and handed back. I bowed and said thank you, internally taken aback. While I was not offended, as it was a gesture that was meant to be helpful and to ease my travels, I found it interesting that it was an action, not simply addressed verbally as would likely have been done in the U.S., as when we “advise” people of actions.

Walking amongst the crowd on the street, I noted the fixture on the side which was decorated with a wind power picture. I stopped to photograph it, and many passersby watched me. I found the promotion of sustainability and clean power admirable and yet another indication of the TEK and connection Koreans have with their spaces as well.

(Photo credit: Chisholm Hatfield – Gangnam South Korea)

The Start of It All: Extra Credit

For those who know me, the announcement of this journey to conduct field research in a foreign land was a bit alarming, a bit uncharacteristic, and a bit exciting.

I have always been someone who continues to learn, with or without support. Those of you not in academic circles, that is jargon for ‘an individual who is not funded’.  The interesting aspect about TEK, is that it evolves in manners which are unexpected. When my Elders directed me that this path was to continue, I had no idea where it would take me.

And yet, a woman who is staunchly devoted to learning her language, supporting her People, and helping raise Native tribes’ ways of addressing issues and rediscovering their TEK, this seems unreal. And unlikely.

Indigeneity is central to any aboriginal group of People that has a connection to the land and its resources.  It is not something that is easily faked, nor is it something that easily disintegrates.  So when I began to see chards of similarities,  the tiniest of slivers that pinged “huh… that’s interesting…” in the back of my mind, I started to take notice. The Elders would tell me to note those moments, because they were a foundation that was being laid down, one piece at a time.

It started with a student several years back who was in one of my Anthropology classes. This student asked to write a paper about a drama,  and I was clueless how to respond. After a brief explanation, I watched to see if it would fit the class parameters for extra credit. While watching, the anthropologist and scientist came out. I found myself observing trends and patterns, more than evaluating for criteria. One drama led to another, and soon my brain was categorizing and I was researching words and patterns and resources because I found some of the similarities to Natives astounding.

Korean dramas, or K Dramas, as they are commonly referred, are very similar to American mini-series television shows.  They are expertly produced, are entertaining and are the center of an emerging population of devoted fans, of which have produced multiple channels and TV apps in America to be able to watch. Netflix and Hulu are even in on the action, adding Korean dramas and have acknowledged the ever-growing demand for Korean produced entertainment.

While entertainment offers a tiny glimpse of culture, it cannot replace research, and for most researcher, when a tiny nugget of information is offered, or shown in my case, they are grabbing for the laptop pulling up JSTOR articles faster than the next scene flashes on the screen. Or, maybe that’s just me… I digress.

The more I began to learn, the more I wanted to learn, and the more intrigued I was about Koreans and the similarities with Native American TEK practices and the ties to the land.