Sabbatical is a time for professors to refresh, enhance their education, conduct research, and even on occasion – travel the world. Hiram College Associate Professor and Interim Chair of the History Department and Program Coordinator for Asian Studies Minor and the Peace Corps Prep Program, Merose Hwang, Ph.D., will be spending sabbatical this spring exploring the history and culture of Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and Okinawa to study the impacts of the Cold War. Already having explored parts of Japan, Hwang is now spending time conducting research in South Korea. 

Hwang will also be joined by Xinlu Yu, Ph.D., associate professor of communication, in South Korea conducting reconnaissance for an upcoming study abroad trip the two will lead in spring 2025, Korean War to K-pop. “For this we will examine the effects of the North/South divided country, examine Korean War atrocity memorials at various stages of completion, visit the Demilitarized Zone, talk to anti-war peace activists and human rights activists, interview North Korean refugee settlement agencies, and the like,” Hwang said. 

Atomic Bomb and Cold War Research

As part of the studies of the atomic bomb and chemical warfare affects in western Japan, Hwang in partnership with Kimiko Ichikawa, a Ph.D. candidate from the Hebrew University of Israel, interviewed several bomb survivors. One of the interviewees was Tadako Nakamoto, who’s been affectionately referred to as the “Mother Theresa of Hiroshima” by those in the area. Nakamoto is a 90-year-old atomic bomb survivor who has been cooking free meals for orphaned children over the last 40 years. 

Hwang also visited Okunoshima, also known as Rabbit Island, where the Japanese built a secret chemical weapons factory during World War II. Rabbit Island is a small enclave occupied by hundreds of wild rabbits that roam the forests and fields in eastern Hiroshima. 

“I have a newfound appreciation for species resilience and ability to forgive without forgetting. Through my memorial tours and interviews, I realize how difficult it is to look outside of one’s nationalist lens. Until we can think beyond ourselves, we may not be able to secure global peace and security,” Hwang said. 

Crossing Paths

Hwang has also visited with several Hiram alumni while in Japan. One of those visits included touring Osaka Castle with the sister-in-law of Muneo Shimbo who attended Hiram in the 1960’s. Shimbo’s sister-in-law is Junko Tanaka-Matsumi, professor emeritus at Kwansei Gakuin University.  

Hiram College has a long-standing exchange agreement with Kansai Gaidai University in Japan, with many students participating in exchange programs between the two institutions. Two students involved in this program were Yui Fukamatsu and Mai Inoue, who both studied at Hiram College in 2017. Hwang was able to spend time with the two former exchange students as they explored Byodoin, a World Heritage temple from the ancient Heian period. 

In celebration of the Lunar New Year, Hwang made the trek to Seoul, relaxing before embarking on travels around Korea to examine the effects of the Korean War. 

Learn more about upcoming study abroad trips being offered at Hiram College. 

By Taylor Cook