Sanghoon Kim is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Illinois. His dissertation research focuses on voting behavior for political parties that are linked to and frequently reference back to an authoritarian past. He was selected as a recipient of the Taiwan Fellowship from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan and the CEAPS Graduate Student Dissertation Travel Grant this year.
At first, it was nothing more than some irritation like my fogged-up glasses from wearing a face mask. It was early February in Taiwan where I visited as a recipient of the Taiwan Fellowship to conduct field research for three months. It was unusually warm in Taipei, around 25 degrees Celsius, and I was following my empirical plans rather than feeling threatened by the outbreak of the coronavirus. Through January and February, I was gathering information about voters’ perceptions of the recent election, political parties, and former political leaders through focus group meetings and elite interviews. I visited local scholars in Taipei and southern cities and tried to get as diverse perspectives on Taiwanese politics as possible. The coronavirus was still a “China” thing then and it had not affected my research yet.
Campaign rally at night in front of the Taiwan Presidential palace.
Then, things started to get worse in South Korea. I began thinking about suspending my data collection there which was another key research site for my dissertation. Data collection in Taiwan also started to be constrained, as people become warier about the virus. Then, the outbreak struck the US hard and fast. The University of Illinois decided to move all classes online and also advised students abroad to return to the US. So, I am back in Champaign, following the self-isolation order, and struggling to continue my research. As of this moment, it is uncertain when I can travel back to Taiwan and Korea and resume data collection, but I am planning to continue empirical research virtually with the help of my local contacts. I have shifted my priorities and it was not easy.
Campaign rally in front of the Taiwan Presidential palace.
Then, I recall what I read online that I am lucky to concern only about my research when many others worry about their ill family members. So, I appreciate for feeling blessed and hope anyone who reads this feels and remains the same way until we beat the virus.