Hi there! My name is Melissa Pallarca, and I am a fourth year student at U of T, specializing in Political Science with a minor in Asia-Pacific Studies. I worked with my classmates Hormuz Dadabhoy and David Wang to put forward a successful proposal to participate in an International Course Module funded by the Faculty of Arts and Science in spring 2014. Led by Professor Andre Schmid, a group of students from CAS400Y: Critical Perspectives on Asian Modernity and EAS466H: Historiography of North Korea will be travelling to South Korea and the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in northeast China to explore the “integrated” identity of China’s Korean minority population, and how that affects cultural and economic relations between China and the Korean peninsula. With this series of blog posts, the three of us hope to document our time spent planning, researching, participating and reflecting on the ICM, which will hopefully provide insight into everything we’re working towards this year.

Applying for an ICM was a no-brainer; you get the rare chance to apply what you learn in the classroom by immersing yourself in the actual environment of your studies, while the Faculty of Arts & Science generously provides funding for up to 90% of the trip’s expenses. The true challenge was coming up with an interesting research topic, and justifying the necessity of travel in order to supplement our findings.

Our initial starting point was a common interest in India. Though the CAS program does its best to cover trends that span throughout all of East, Southeast, and South Asia, there tends to be a natural bias towards East Asia in many courses due to the subsequently larger discourse that accompanies it. Not only were we curious to learn more on recent socio-political and economic changes in India, we also saw this as a great way to visit an area that we wouldn’t have otherwise considered under normal financial constraints. With this in mind, we set off looking for professors that would be willing to supervise our field study. Many were attentive to our idea, but ultimately we weren’t able to score a definitive yes. While ICMs are a great time for students, they are usually held during Reading Week or in the beginning of May; critical times for professors to catch up on some of their many commitments beyond teaching, such as their own research projects, publications, or conference presentations. For many of them, an ICM simply didn’t fit their already packed schedules.

Slightly discouraged but not down for the count, we decided to switch tactics by being more encompassing of the Asia-Pacific region as a whole in our approach. Emails were sent out to potential faculty (with great help from the Asian Institute!), and we waited with bated breath. So when Professor Andre Schmid responded saying he was willing to sign on for our proposal, we were really relieved! Once we had him on board, it was time to tackle the proposal itself.

The proposal had both academic and logistical components to deal with. Hormuz and David largely handled the former, while I handled the latter. The more research we did, the more we became intrigued with Yanbian Prefecture, and how its existence as an autonomous region is contingent upon the ethnic Korean minority that prevails there, as well as its strategic importance in Sino-Korean economic relations for all three countries involved. Though admittedly niche, it is an especially engaging topic that appeals to students in both CAS400 and EAS466H (Professor Schmid’s class, which would be included in the proposal), and one that would surely keep us heavily invested in our pre-departure research throughout the year. After several drafts and edits, combined with the tentative itinerary and budget, we submitted our proposal, and the rest is history.

It wasn’t easy putting this altogether; aside from our individual commitments, the due date for proposals was early May 2013, which meant the bulk of the work had to be done during exam season. But despite the variables working against us, we were still able to come up with a compelling ICM proposal. We’re fully aware that when we land in Seoul in May 2014, our year’s worth of hard work will have definitely paid off!