Studying halfway around the world away from friends and family can be difficult, but South
Korean student Jaemin Shin finds her solace in the arts. Shin, a native of Seoul, South
Shin, is the first international student to graduate from Webster’s Theatre Studies and Dramaturgy program. Dramaturgy refers to the analysis and study of theatre.
Shin chose to attend Webster University because of her middle school dream to become a theatre artist. Her parents insisted she study abroad in order to widen her perspective of the world. Although English is Shin’s second language, she worked vigorously to expand her vocabulary. Shin ultimately decided to study abroad in America.
“The theatre industry is so much larger in America compared to Korea,” Shin said. “When I decided to attend Webster, I wanted to mainly focus on academics and studying theatre.”
Shin did not anticipate significant cultural barriers while studying abroad. Korea is a homogenous society, according to Shin, and she did not get to experience many other cultures while there. She said she learned how to respect different cultures and is thankful for Webster’s diversity.
“When at Webster, I’m the foreigner who has to express or show my culture to others,” Shin said. “I’m still learning, I still make mistakes, and I still offend people without noticing, but
I’m glad that I’m trying to be aware of those things.”
Shin’s advisor Professor Gad Guterman directs the Theatre Studies and Dramaturgy
program. English also happens to be Guterman’s second language, and he said
Shin’s ability to adapt to the conservatory curriculum is impressive.
“Shin is our first, and so far only international student [in the program],” Guterman said. “Whatever we have done or not done has been because of Shin’s incredible capacities as a student. Shin is truly a trailblazer.”
The dramaturgy program usually requires an intensive interview process, but that was replaced with Skype interviews for Shin.
“Because of Shin’s accommodations, international students have more ways to participate in Webster’s Conservatory programs,” Guterman said.
Shin hopes to implement what she learned about various cultures and diversity into her work as she continues to pursue a career in dramaturgy. Shin would like to work with young playwrights to help them research the history of theatre productions and the context of narratives.
This past year, Shin traveled to New York City to learn first-hand about dramaturgy and theatre production.
Shin said walking down Broadway and seeing so many people carrying Playbills filled her with optimism about her craft.
“It would be amazing to work where people pay attention to what I create,” Shin said. “The saddest part about the Korean theatre industry is that people don’t seem as interested in productions. People seem genuinely interested in theatre in the United States.”
Senior Annie Dent, Shin’s peer in the Dramaturgy program, has no doubt her friend will excel in her career as a dramaturge.
“Shin’s most unique quality is her willingness to learn,” Dent said. “It’s something that’s invaluable. Dramaturges are always open to learning new things. Shin often says ‘yes statements,’ like ‘yes’ to going to a show, or ‘yes’ to going someplace new with friends, and I think that shows her ability to learn.”
In addition to recognition for her academic abilities, Shin said Americans have occasionally recognized her solely by her Korean heritage, which people question due to current controversies about the North Korean regime. Shin said she finds this offensive.
“People have asked me questions to attract attention from others instead of actually caring about my opinion as a South Korean,” Shin said. “I think that the matter is extremely complicated. Before our country was divided, we were all one people, we were one culture, and we spoke the same language. Many families were divided when the line was drawn, and I think it’s very sad that so many Koreans have been put in this difficult situation.”
Shin is optimistic that tensions will decrease and war can be avoided to prevent people from dying and territory from being destroyed.
“In one aspect [North Koreans] seem like an enemy, and in another aspect they seem like family,” Shin said.
Shin hopes to combine her South Korean culture with her American theatre experience in her future work as a dramaturge. Upon graduating in December, Shin will return to Seoul and will pursue theatre production and dramaturgy roles in South Korea until she feels ready to study abroad again to continue her theatre studies.