PhD Student Seungmi Cho Receives Fulbright Award for Research Project in Korea

Headshot of Seungmi Cho“​​What does it mean to be human if you are denied access to home, family, and knowledge of your birth?” 

That’s the opening question from PhD student Seungmi Cho’s (조 승미), MSW ‘07, BSW ’06 successful Fulbright Research Award proposal which will provide her funding to spend next year in South Korea exploring Korean adoptee personhood. 

Cho will spend 10 months observing and interviewing participants at KoRoot Guesthouse in Seoul where she once worked as an Adoptee Relations Coordinator. Since 2003, KoRoot, which is a Non-government Organization (NGO), has helped overseas Korean adoptees visit their home country. 

“KoRoot’s international impact and contributions to public-sphere knowledge is interconnected with its intimate encounters with adoptees,” says Cho. KoRoot also publishes research about adoption and adoptee rights, and promotes alternatives to international adoptions through improved family and child care systems in Korea.

The Korean adoptee diaspora consists of 200,000 people who were displaced overseas since the Korean War. 

As Cho explained in her proposal, the KoRoot Guesthouse helps displaced adoptees find community, friendship, romance, and other connections with adults who share a common home country but who have been stripped of the experiences of Korean life. It often becomes a “home away from home.”

Through observations, interviews, data analysis, and check-ins, Cho plans to address three questions: 

How do adult Korean adoptees construct being and belonging in their intimate relationships (i.e. self, friendship, dating/partnership)? 

How do Korean adoptees transform exclusion into connection (e.g., sharing childhood memories of racist nicknames)? 

How do adoptee-centered spaces contribute to intimate self-knowledge?

Cho is herself a Korean American adoptee and describes the experience of learning about the Korean language and culture as transformative. “Since childhood, I was desperate to learn about my birth culture—especially when struggling with self-hatred due to isolation within the segregated suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” Cho said. 

Cho’s experiences inform her professional path and research agendas. “I was grateful for my life and loved ones in the United States, but I also understood that isolation in adulthood reflected structural dynamics that displaced me from Korea and persisted to date,” Cho explains. “I continued, therefore, to nourish my anti-racist imaginings of returning to my motherland to gain knowledge and create memories.”

As a PhD student, Cho’s interests have included anti-racist, feminist intersectional social justice pedagogy, and transracial and international adoption. 

“I am so delighted that Seungmi has been selected for a prestigious Fulbright Research Award,” says Dr. Tova Walsh, Assistant Professor and Director of the PhD Program. “Seungmi’s dissertation research is innovative, important, and grounded in her commitment to social justice, anti-racism, advocacy and coalition-building among transracial adoptees and communities of color.”

Over the course of her career, Cho (formerly Laura Klunder) has received numerous awards, including a Teaching Excellence award from the school and an Outstanding Women of Color, Diversity, Equity, & Educational Achievement from UW-Madison. In 2016, UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Alumni Association recognized her with a “Forward Under Forty Award.”

The Fulbright Research grants provide student scholars with 10 months of funding to complete independent research projects. In addition to the Fullbright, Cho received a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship for Summer 2022 to study Korean full-time this summer through Harvard Summer School.