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Student of the Month: Garam Han

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

Garam Han (she/her/hers). I am a second-year PhD student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. Originally from South Korea, I came to the US about six years ago to study. Because of the pandemic, I am taking courses online while at home in S. Korea. This coming summer will be my last semester of coursework.

What are your interests in your field of study/work?

I am interested in the study of Korean Christian women’s identity formation through an ecological lens. I aim to explore how the image of God through and in nature can empower women to re-identify and re-claim their identity as a reflection of God’s image.

Who has inspired you to want to do the work you want to do?

Many people have inspired me to pursue my work. First of all, my grandmother and mother inherited the spirit of the matriarch. Although my grandmother could not be a visible figure in the church in her generation because of her gender, she was a leader in the places where she could be. She knew how to use and expand limited space for herself and others. My mom also challenged patriarchy by rejecting the culture of naming children according to the eldest male in the family. According to tradition, my grandfather chose my name with a Chinese meaning when I was born; however, my mother re-named me with a pure Korean name. Regardless of whether or not my mother intended to reject patriarchy and our colonialization, I believe her act did indeed challenge the status quo of our culture by claiming the power to choose her daughter's name.

Furthermore, PANAAWTM has inspired me to focus on my cultural identity. Thankfully, Dr. Haruko Ward has invited Asian women students at Columbia Theological Seminary to PANAAWTM every year; and I attended the conference in 2017 for the first time. It was my first experience in seeing interfaith dialogue that included a female monk as a panelist. Buddhist monks, especially female monks, usually were left behind in the interfaith dialogue I had experienced. I did not even feel the need to include them myself until then, even though Buddhism is deeply related to my religious and philosophical culture. I was accustomed to observing interfaith dialogue within the Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The experience challenged me to broaden my worldview of study and also my identity as a Korean woman who studies theology in the US.

Lastly, Dr. Christine Hong, a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, introduced me to several books by Asian and Asian American Scholars that I had not seen until my third year of MDiv study. I was thrilled from the first moment I visited her office, discovering a world of Asian and Asian American scholarship that I did not know. I could feel Dr. Hong's passion and confidence in our community.

I believe these people and experiences inspired me to have an interest in my research consciously and unconsciously.

Show on Netflix you have binged recently or a quarantine hobby you have picked up?

I fell in love with a Korean drama called “Melo Is My Nature (멜로가체질),” which is available on Netflix. I have rewatched the drama four times so far. I like it because of its satirical expression of Korean society. The dialogue is especially direct, and I find it so gratifying, but also heavy. The main characters of the drama speak out loud how I feel inside.

What brings you hope?

People and nature bring me hope but also suffering. I can't believe that I am talking about hope since the word "hope" is a painful word for me. When I moved to Chicago in 2019 to pursue a Ph.D., I decided not to hope in people as a way to protect myself after a series of disturbing events during my Master studies. Interestingly however, my hope has grown again through interacting with people and nature as we face the difficulty of this pandemic together. I began growing plants at the start of my PhD studies. I had a few plants in my dorm, and I left them with a friend when I left the US for the summer. One of the plants almost died during that time, so I told my friend to throw it away if she didn't see any improvement. A few months later, she sent me a wonderful picture of my plant with many healthy leaves. That was a sign of hope for me.

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