By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications
UCLA International Institute, June 7, 2021 — Jennifer Jung-Kim (UCLA Ph.D. 2005), assistant director and senior editor of the Center for Buddhist Studies and longtime International Institute instructor, received the UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award this spring.
The award, conferred annually by the Academic Senate on nine individuals, is the highest campus distinction for teaching. “I love teaching and it is an honor to have received the award,” says Jung-Kim of the honor. “I love the energy that students bring to the classroom and campus. They challenge me to see the world through their eyes, and I learn so much from them.
“I especially like it when students come to office hours so we can get to know each other better. Even years after they graduate, students will come for a surprise visit, knowing that they are always welcome back.”
A woman of quiet intelligence and a dry sense of humor, Jung-Kim has been teaching for the International Institute and the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures for roughly a decade. A few years ago, she also began offering a course through the UCLA undergraduate food studies minor.
Jung-Kim earned her Ph.D. in modern Korean history at UCLA with Professor John Duncan, and went on to work at Smith College and Occidental College before joining the staff of the International Institute in 2008. It’s no surprise that she approaches her courses, whatever the topic, with an historical lens — particularly via popular culture.
“My approach to teaching is to give students a better understanding of how historical, social and cultural experiences shape institutions, ideas and the everyday lives of ordinary people,” she explains.
Among her regular UCLA courses, many of which she created whole cloth, are:
Creating community and inviting creativity
“As a faculty member, I try to build communities in my classes and be accessible to students who need someone to listen to them,” she says. Over the years, she has supported students through multiple difficulties — among them, mental health challenges, loss of a parent, physical illness and fear of being deported — frequently referring them to both on- and off-campus resources.
Throughout the pandemic, she observes, “The need to build communities has been more pressing than ever. All of my classes have been synchronous and students have been consistently logging in from Westwood and beyond, even from Europe and East Asia, where it is the middle of the night during class.”
“Almost everyone has felt anxious, lonely or depressed at some point through this pandemic, so it has been very challenging for all of us. But I keep reminding students to form communities in each class they take. They are expert at setting up group chats, and I also like to use Discord to communicate with the class.”
After 15 months of remote teaching, she says, “I am definitely looking forward to returning to campus!”
To humanize the remote environment, Jung-Kim has used a mixture of music videos, check-in questions and regular attendance to engage her students and give them opportunities to get to know one another better. Her assignments also give free reign to their creativity. Students in her Asian Foodways and Korean Popular Culture courses, for example, are regularly assigned short videos. (See sample videos here.)
The veteran teacher frequently employs “Reacting to the Past” pedagogy in her courses, which assigns students roles of specific historical figures whom they research and then represent in discussions. In her honors course, for example, the class spends spend the first half of the quarter playing “Greenwich Village, 1913: Suffrage, Labor and the New Woman,” an historical role-playing game.
“Everyone steps into a real or fictional character living in 1913 New York and has to write an essay, give speeches and debate in character, advocating for suffrage, labor or another feminist cause,” she explains. "We spend the second half of the course looking at some of the same issues in East Asia in the 1920s and 30s to see how China, Japan and Korea dealt with feminism similarly and differently.”
In her Introduction to East Asia course, she says, “students take on roles as the Six Party countries to negotiate a peace treaty to end the Korean War. It’s similar to a Model UN, but personalized for our class, which I describe as being about one Japan, two Koreas and multiple Chinese interests.”
This summer, Jung-Kim will use the same pedagogy in a two-week summer institute on Asian history for high school students. “I discovered that many high school students are eager to take college-level courses, but would prefer to be in a class with peers their age rather than with college-age students,” she remarks.
Next year, Jung-Kim will offer a teaching assistant training course (Asian 495) in spring 2022. She herself began as a teaching assistant at UCLA. Having grown into a seasoned teacher recognized for her talent, she is sure to offer a course that imparts many useful skills to doctoral students beginning to teach for the first time.