Why I Chose East Asian Studies

May 1, 2022
Hadley Kim

I had never taken a Korean history class before my junior year of high school. Before, I had my heart set on being an English major, but a particularly difficult sophomore year English class left me feeling lost and confused about what I wanted to do with the rest of my academic career.

I knew I liked History, but I hadn’t really thought about it as a major before because I found European history dense and uninteresting while American history felt distant and unengaging. Unfortunately for me, it just so happened that these were the two areas my history classes primarily focused on. 

So I gave Korean history a shot and fell in love. Korea is interesting in that it lies between China and Japan, two nations with their own rich histories, and that the intersection of the three nations is omnipresent in any era of history you study. This is captured at the heart of the East Asian Studies Department, where there is less of a divide between the three nations but an emphasis on where they interact with each other. 

So I applied to Princeton as an East Asian Studies concentrator, and although I had brief moments where I considered what it would be like to major in something else, I held firm and eventually declared EAS. 

The department and its small size (there are only seven people in my class!) allow me to explore the different ways I want to study East Asia, which is by expanding my language skills, taking classes in politics and public policy in addition to history and culture. 

For anyone else looking to study other regions and cultures, I would recommend going in after getting rid of all preconceived notions and stereotypes of the region you are studying. Allowing yourself to start anew gives you more room for growth, and there’s something weirdly freeing about the fact that you don’t really know a lot about this particular region.  

At this point in my academic career at Princeton, I have no idea where my interests in East Asia will take me. I originally had my heart set on studying the resonance of colonial history in modern-day South Korea, but after taking classes on Chinese history ("China's Frontiers," and "Everyday Life in Mao's China") the crossroads between Korea and China seem too interesting to ignore, and after writing a paper in one of my classes on the lives of women in the Mao Zedong era of China, I have also become more interested in studying the position of gender within East Asia.

What I do know, however, is that I love the East Asian Studies department. I love that it’s small, that I get individualized attention from my professors, and even the building where it’s housed, Jones Hall, is beautiful. I’ve felt at home here since my first-year fall, and I am excited to see what the future will bring.