The 2021 recipient of The Forum on Education Abroad’s 2021 Award for Academic Achievement Abroad is Emily Wilbourne, nominated by Forum member Elon University, for her project, “The Impact of Japanese Colonialism on the Religiosity of Korean Seungmu Dance.” The award recognizes sophisticated and thoughtful academic projects that occur as part of education abroad programs. Wilbourne’s project investigates the impact of Japanese imperialism on a traditional Buddhist drum dance from Korea called Seungmu (“Monk’s Dance”). Her work specifically explores the dance’s embodied negotiations of Korean national identity in the wake of religious and political frameworks imposed during the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945).
Upon learning that she was the recipient of the award, Wilbourne said, “This award is an incredible honor, which I am so grateful to receive. It feels like such a validation of the importance of this research, which I hope will make contributions to many scholarly fields. I am particularly grateful that The Forum on Education Abroad has awarded me this honor considering the many obstacles this project overcame throughout the challenging years of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shaped the process and results of my work.”
Through the award, The Forum aims to highlight the full range of academic excellence that can be achieved through education abroad experiences, in the fine arts and humanities, social sciences, and STEM disciplines. For many professionals in the field, this award underscores the important ways that education abroad impacts student learning and reminds us of some of the reasons why we do what we do. Wilbourne shared that this study and research abroad experience has left her with a much more developed understanding of her positionality in the world and an increased global-mindedness.
Following a semester exchange at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, South Korea in Fall 2020, in the summer of 2021, Wilbourne returned to the country to conduct her fieldwork for her undergraduate research in Busan, South Korea. During this time, she engaged in ethnographic research consisting of semi-structured, qualitative interviews with seungmu practitioners, teachers and masters, as well as participant observation in the dance form itself. Wilbourne believes that her dance lessons in seungmu significantly enhanced her research experience abroad. She was able to further augment her cultural understanding of Korea through visiting Korean Buddhist temples, museums, and sacred sites, taking a course on modern Korean history and culture, and developing her Korean language skills.
A faculty member who reviewed her nomination shared, “Although just about out of the gate from her extraordinary academic undergraduate accomplishments, Emily’s research has the tenor of a graduate student ready to write their thesis. Her focus is on deepening her current research―returning to Korea on her own for a second visit for an immersion experience that helped her to be more clear about the emotional connection of seungmu―but her vision is squarely on the contribution she hopes to make to dance ethnography and Asian performance studies.”
Wilbourne has been invited to give a presentation regarding her international experience and academic project at the awards ceremony at The Forum’s 18th Annual Conference, which will take place virtually on March 22 at 2:45 p.m. CST. She will work together with one of our Forum volunteer professionals, Professor Natasha Otto of Morgan State University, who will mentor her in the months preceding the conference. Wilbourne says, “I am looking forward to working with Professor Natasha Otto on preparing to share my project at the conference. My study abroad experiences have been deeply formative and I am always excited to speak about them.”
Emily Wilbourne is an Arts Administration major at Elon University with a Dance and Interreligious Studies double minor. She has a 4.0 GPA and is also a member of the highly competitive Multifaith Scholars (MFS) program at Elon, which awards a two-year scholarship to a select group of students who are committed to developing a long-term research project related to religious diversity and multifaith issues. Beyond presenting her research, Emily has received numerous awards and grants for her project. She was named the 2021 Summer Research Fellows for the Elon Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society and she was selected to participate in the 2021 Summer Undergraduate Research Experience program.
Congratulations Emily on a job well done and a bright future ahead!