Interview with Moon Choi"One of the biggest questions is about the meaning of life."
Could you tell about yourself; for instance about your education, academic background, and what kind of topics have you been working with?
I have a very multidisciplinary background. I majored in biochemistry for undergraduate, but I hated chemistry! I really enjoyed it in High School, and I wanted to become a scientist, but I found that I am not so good at working in the lab. Therefore, I changed my major and went into the master programme of social welfare, and I did my PhD in social welfare with concentration on gerontology. I moved from South Korea to the US for my PhD degree, and actually, the biggest culture shock was driving for me. I grew up in a big city and used lots of transportation, such as subway and bus. When I moved to the mid-west in the US, it was hard to survive without driving, which made me think about losing the ability to drive. That is why I wanted to do my dissertation about driving cessation, and I did a lot of research about senior transportation, where I got to know Anu (project coordinator of Mature). From there my research interests moved to Asian technology. I moved back to South Korea about four years ago, since I started my lab called Asian technology. Our research is about the junction between population change and new technology. We write papers about the autonomous car, the welfare technology and how it could be adapted with the Asian model, and look for appropriate technology with it.
What kind of projects do you currently have?
I am currently working with three projects. The first one is about age-friendly cities, as most of those models are developed in the western world, and Asian cities are quite different. Most of them are giant mega cities and the living environments are quite different, so we are currently developing a model that is conceptual, and we are doing an empirical study. The second project is about senior transportation in South Korea, as older drivers are a very serious issue there. Many taxi-drivers and buss-drivers are older as it is hard to find a job for older people. Ageing is a very serious issue so we try to provide evidence-based practice, or policy recommendations. The third project is new, for which our graduate school got funding from the National Foundation of South Korea, and it focuses on environmental issues. Meaning, after human beings emerged there is a new era on earth, which make people think a lot about sustainability. Our focus is on how population change has affected the relationship between the earth and the human being.
How would you describe the field of ageing in Korea? Something unexpected compared to Nordics?
I think the biggest difference compared to Scandinavia is the welfare state model. When talking about informal caregiving (in Scandinavia), the expectation has changed and people believe they are not taken care of by their family. However, there is still a very strong welfare state, why I guess most people are not afraid to be ageing. Even if people are sick they are covered by the government, but the Korean welfare state is not similar. It is very low tax, and very different kind of system. As Asia is related with disability and poverty, those are embedded to our welfare state model. This makes a huge difference when it comes to the aspects of individual responsibility versus the government.
What is your personal point of view on population ageing? What do you find as the biggest challenges, and possible solutions?
These days is not just about ageing. One of the biggest questions, also with myself, is about the meaning of life. My father retired couple of years ago and he used to be very active, but now he seems depressed and it made me think a lot about the meaning of life. What meaning we give to each other, just like now when we are discussing which is nice and exciting, even though it might not give us a huge reward. It is for me important to take care of my baby and spend time with my parents, which is very important and meaningful. In my opinion, society emphasizes too much employment and work life, and when people retire people find it hard to find meaning again. It is important to start think from a young age that what is the meaning of life related to everyday life. Volunteering and whatever kind of advocacy might be good for society, and these days the serious social problems are mental and emotional, as people might feel depressed and lonely. The core aspect about meaning of life is something that people should start practicing from a young age.
Is there something you would still like to research? A topic that you would think need special attention?
Hmm, I have so many topics I would like to study. Actually, one of my future goals is to be a cartoonist, and I want to write a children’s book about ageing and social welfare, even though this is not really research related.
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