For those of you taking Introduction to Anthropology or the Anthropology course on Disasters, you are familiar with Professor Vivian Choi. Professor Choi joined the St. Olaf Sociology/Anthropology department this fall as an Assistant Professor of Anthropology. Professor Choi kindly agreed to answer some questions.
Professor Choi grew up in Portland, Oregon and received her Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology with a minor in Gender/Women’s Studies from Pomona College. While doing her undergraduate studies at Pomona College, she spent a semester on a study abroad program in Nepal. This was a turning point in her life as she had never lived abroad before and she got to learn about South Asia. It also helped her develop a sense of criticality about the world and paved the way for a future in anthropology. When she graduated from college, she was interested in public policy and policy research.
After graduation, she moved to New York City, where she worked at a social policy research firm as a research assistant. However, while working, she realized that she missed doing fieldwork and more hands-on research. As a result, she applied for a Fulbright Fellowship to do research in Sri Lanka. Her Fulbright research was on the politics and gendered aspects of the conflict in Sri Lanka, in particular peace movements mobilised and spearheaded by women. In Sri Lanka, she had the opportunity to work with a local NGO called the Women and Media Collective.
After her Fulbright, Professor Choi attended University of California-Davis to obtain her Masters and Doctoral degrees. Her dissertation research examined the social and political intersections of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the decades-long civil war in Sri Lanka. After finishing her PhD, Professor Choi was an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University. She came to St. Olaf from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she was a Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Anthropology and Program on Disasters, Displacement, and Human Rights.
How did you get interested in Anthropology?
Professor Choi became interested in Anthropology in high school after she had the chance to see Jane Goodall and Donald Johanson speak. Initially, she was unsure of what subfield of anthropology she was interested in, but as she took more classes and started to think more critically about the world, she realised that that was what drew her toward Cultural Anthropology. Some of Professor Choi’s areas of speciality include, disasters, science and technology studies, conflicts/insecurity/nationalism and environmental anthropology. These interests developed with her desire to travel.
What is some of the research you have done and where?
Apart from the Fulbright research and the dissertation research in Sri Lanka, Professor Choi did a mini-ethnographic project/independent study with an anthropology professor at Scripps College in Korea Town, in Los Angeles. She also did an independent study on women’s empowerment programs during her study abroad program in Nepal.
What brought you to St. Olaf?
When asked what brought her to St. Olaf, she mentioned that apart from a job, it was the friendly and welcoming St. Olaf community: she found that the SOAN department seemed nice, friendly, genuine, and honest. In addition the students she met while she visited were also great.
What is your teaching philosophy?
Professor Choi’s goal, whether a student is an anthropology major or not, is to teach them how to think like an anthropologist, which is to have a certain kind of awareness and criticality towards the world. She tries to address current world issues and contemporary events in her classrooms. She also makes an effort to include a mix of film, fiction, and ethnography so students can understand that there are different ways that they can engage with a topic of interest. She mentioned that she comes from a graduate program with a wonderful set of advisors who taught her about intellectual and scholarly generosity and she tries to embrace that spirit in her own teaching and academic endeavors. Collaborative learning is something Professor Choi values a lot.
What are some of your non-academic interests?
Some of her interests and hobbies include going to music concerts, hiking, and food. She also likes playing soccer and loves her little puppy, Ollie, very much! She tries to live an active lifestyle as much as she can and she enjoys reading. One of Professor Choi’s favourite texts is Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee.
What is your advice for SOAN majors?
Her advice to SOAN majors is that it is (obviously!) a great choice and to take advantage of the creativity that is allowed with the major. By that, she means to take advantage of and engage with the ways in which the major pushes you to think in new and different ways. She also mentioned that taking time off before grad school is a good choice as it is a big commitment and having some time off gives you some perspective and non-school experience!