Sooji Kim is a graduate student in Development Studies who recently joined the African Studies Program team as an Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS) Project Assistant! In this feature, Sooji will discuss her graduate research, how she first became interested in her topic of study, and her experiences here at the African Studies Program.

Field of study: Development Studies

Hometown: Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam

Briefly tell us about your work, as it relates to Africa, and what inspired you to pursue this field of study.

I was initially interested in Official Development Assistance (ODA) and how the international community could work more effectively in addressing global inequality. For this purpose, I felt I needed to better understand the dynamics of people’s lives in different parts of the world, and I chose to study, travel and work in Africa.

I learned that foreign aid, development programs, and advocacy work can be effective in certain fields, but their current structures and modes of operation are more constrained when working on issues of governance, political and civil rights, and sustainability. Today, I’ve moved away from ODA work to studies on political participation and gender structures in rural Tanzania.

What brought you to Madison in particular?

I wanted to do research on civil society, political participation, unions and cooperatives, and gender dynamics, in a university that has a strong history of African studies. UW-Madison has the perfect combination of all these factors, and a diverse group of academics and researchers working on different aspects of life and people in various African countries.

How did you first get involved with the African Studies Program on campus?

I regularly attended the weekly Wednesday Africa At Noon lecture series and learned that I could work as an Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS) Project Assistant in the African Studies Program (current position).

What advice would you give students who are interested in studying Africa?

I would say it is important to learn the language, read African literature, try the different kinds of food, wander around in different parts of Africa and talk with the people at the market, at the food stores, in the bus, and keep your mind open to different ways of understanding life. I wasn’t very good at this at first, and I still struggle sometimes to not make judgments and to view the continent from an outsider’s perspective. But I try to remember that it’s an ongoing process, and I’ve really learned to relax and have more fun amongst cultures different from my own over time.

What is your favorite fall activity?

I like going for long walks. In Korea, I enjoyed visiting the old palaces and temples when the gingko leaves turn golden during the fall season. In Madison, I like walking around and watching the squirrels.