By Fleming Smith
The University recently awarded the Biehl International Research Fellowship to two students, Gil Horner (C’20) and Emily Rowcliffe (C’19), who will be traveling to Perú and South Korea respectively to conduct independent research this summer.
Horner, a pre-med chemistry major and anthropology minor seeking a certificate in Civic and Global Leadership, will be researching a project entitled “Perú: Convergence of Ethnomedicine and Biomedicine in the Peruvian Amazon.” Rowcliffe, a double major in history and Asian studies, seeks to explore “South Korea: Re-assimilating North Koreans.”
“I’m going to be traveling to Iquitos, Perú, which is in the Laredo region, the northernmost region of Perú. It is covered about 45 percent with the Peruvian Amazon, so the Amazon rainforest, the most biodiverse place in the world,” explained Horner regarding his project. “It also houses a lot of native people, a lot of mestizo people, which is mixed heritage. Because these people have been here for a long, long time, in a very biodiverse place, without access to a lot of modern medicine through time, traditional medicine, or ethnomedicine, is prevalent.”
Horner added that increased ecotourism and exploitation of resources has raised awareness that people in the Peruvian Amazon using traditional medicine are still not healthy by modern standards, leading to an increased use of modern medicine, or biomedicine, in the region. Residents of river communities may travel four to eight hours by boat to Iquitos for treatment.
He described his research question as, “What happens with increased biomedical practices, what happens to the culture of peoples who’ve long practiced ethnomedicine?” He continued,
“I’ll be able to interact with people who are used to modern medicine in Iquitos, but also people who are coming from these river villages. That’s about two weeks of my time.”
After starting in Iquitos at a clinic that focuses on eye-surgery, Horner will start independent ethnographic fieldwork. He explained ethnography in this project as “learning about how people live. How they see the world…I’ll be traveling and spending one to two weeks at various river communities throughout the Amazon.”
After conducting site visits close to Iquitos, Horner will travel farther into the Peruvian Amazon and embed himself into two or three river communities. “This is where the ethnographic part comes in. This is where I see the day-to-day, I do more extended interviews, I kind of shadow people who work in the health posts in these communities,” he explained.
Regarding what he most looks forward to, Horner said, “I’m excited for the people. I’m excited for the experience as a whole, but mainly getting to challenge understandings that I have, conceptions that I have, of wellness.”
While planning his project, Horner reached out to many contacts, both through Sewanee and of his own initiative. While studying at Sewanee this summer as a Hippocrates Fellow, a program involving rigorous pre-medical training, Horner became close friends with a visiting vegan chef who happened to be house visiting for a friend currently visiting Perú with a medical mission. Now, Horner will join that same mission this summer.
Horner hopes the Biehl Fellowship will help him discover what he wants to pursue after Sewanee. “I’ve always been interested in how illness shapes our lives, and then also what we do about it. The way we understand our illness will play a major role in what we do to treat our illness,” he said. Currently, Horner is undecided between heading straight to medical school, pursuing medical anthropology, or a combination of the two.
“That’s the point of the Biehl, right? To try and see,” said Horner.
Rowcliffe plans to pursue research in South Korea after being inspired by a study abroad trip last semester in which she studied at Yonsei University. “I’m going to South Korea to research what specific steps are being taken to integrate North Korean refugees into South Korean culture and what else needs to be done to improve the assimilation process for North Koreans,” she explained.
At Yonsei University, Rowcliffe said, “I volunteered to mentor a few North Korean refugees around my age, so I got to know some of them well. They gave me a better sense of what life was like for them back in North Korea and how hard of a journey it was to South Korea. Unfortunately, I learned that South Koreans have a prejudice against North Korean refugees, because a lot of them see the refugees as just taking handouts from the government without really contributing to society.”
Rowcliffe will research how the government helps North Korean refugees assimilate into South Korea in addition to the challenges North Korean refugees face. She hopes to listen to the refugees themselves and learn what other kinds of assistance should be provided.
“It is important to get a better understanding of the North Korean refugees because of how volatile the relationship is between the two Koreas at this moment. As the situation between North and South Korea continues to evolve, especially since the renewal of hope during the Olympics, it is paramount to put people over politics in order to best assist North Koreans assimilating to the outside world,” Rowcliffe explained.
She added, “I was motivated to apply for the Biehl because it seemed like a good opportunity to research something I’m passionate about. I’m very grateful that Sewanee has opportunities for students like this because it gives us a chance to go out in the world and get experience researching something we might not get to do otherwise. I’m most looking forward to getting to know the North Koreans better and once again being in a country I love.”
Associate Dean of Global Education Scott Wilson, a member of the selection committee, commented, “Gil Horner and Emily Rowcliffe wrote excellent proposals on important topics.” He continued, “Conducting social science research abroad requires a high level of intercultural competence and engagement,” adding that Rowcliffe and Horner had demonstrated “important intercultural skills.”
The Biehl Fellowship allows Sewanee students to conduct independent social science research outside of the United States. Rising juniors and seniors applying for the fellowship may be awarded up to $4,000 after submitting a research proposal.
CORRECTION 3/13/18: A quote from Dean Scott Wilson originally attributed Gil Horner’s intercultural skills to time spent working in Haiti, which Horner in fact has not participated in. The quote has henceforth been revised.