After finishing her Bachelor’s degree, majoring in business law in France, Pauline Detraz first came to South Korea five years ago, to learn the Korean language and culture. “I just needed to take a break,” she said with a smile hidden behind the mask.
While she was learning Korean then, she was also looking for the right place to study for her Master’s, and finally chose Ewha GSIS after one year and a half had passed.
“I found the Development Cooperation program at Ewha GSIS. And I felt that is for me.”
Having spent four semesters of coursework and an extension of one-semester dedicated solely to thesis writing, she has graduated this year with the Best Thesis Award, which is the only Master’s thesis of Ewha GSIS that got this award, with a topic on “Counterterrorism and the Construction of Human Rights Abuse(r)s.”
Let’s learn more about her decision and journey to do the best quality research about human rights, the topic that is totally different from her academic background, through this interview!
Why did you choose Korea and Ewha GSIS?
I chose Korea because I am interested in Asian culture and I wanted to learn a new language. Chinese seems too hard, and life in Japan is too expensive. Korea is good for me. Korea used to be a developing country, which is now a developed country. So, we are working with professors who know the ground and some even work for the Korean government. And also, I had been in Korea a year before I moved in. At that time, I visited a friend who lived in Korea for two weeks. And I was like, “Wow!, it’s amazing.” I thought that I might just come and try. Korea was the best option at that moment.
I choose Ewha because it’s a women’s university and gender-related issues are really important nowadays. It’s something I really truly believed in and I think we don’t have this kind of school in France. It was a very good opportunity for me to learn more about women’s empowerment and all of those steps.
For international studies, it’s also because of the curriculum. When I read the curriculum, I saw that there are so many great classes. I really feel fully in love with the program. Also, the program is in English, not in Korean.
Your thesis was awarded as Best Thesis. Could you please explain what its main idea is and why you decide to conduct the research?
As I told you, I had studied law. But during the third year in undergrad, we had to choose a specialization. I made a mistake by choosing Business Law when I’m more like a human rights person. At Ewha, I chose more classes focused on human rights so that I could refocus my education. During Prof. Brendan Howe’s International Humans Rights class, we had to write a paper. I really wanted to talk about how the French government is using terrorism to make, it’s a bit strong, but I would say, racist policies that target Muslim people, and then, why it’s so unequal. I think it’s very hard to be a Muslim person in Europe nowadays. So, I really wanted to write about it.
Some people might not be familiar with the idea or concept in your thesis. Can you explain a little bit more about it?
Basically, according to English School Rationalism, everyone wants to be part of the international society because we have a lot of advantages to do it. They will abide by human rights because it’s what developed countries do. But my thesis shows that it’s not really true. Developed countries have a lot of rules to follow. So, developing countries try to abide by it and English school rationalism says that the country will tend to do it to be into the international society and to take all the advantages of it. If you don’t follow some rules, other countries will not want to deal with you or make business with you. There are a lot of advantages of following the powerful countries’ rules. But in my thesis, we will see it’s more complicated than that. Even a country like France, which is like the country of humans rights, is actually doing bad things and using the excuse of terrorism to act like they are doing this for all people. But at the end of the day, they are violating the things they used to believe in.
What is the finding of your research?
Countries are acting contrary to what the English school rationalism says. Some countries do not follow the guidelines to be a good country. Even a country that seems to do good can do bad things. And I would like to do some research to understand the impact of the international society on countries’ behavior. If China could do it, it is because the international society was targeting terrorists. So, after they manipulate the rules in the way. They could do not only war to terrorism but also a war on people who did not do anything
Do you think your law background affects how you perceive things in the international relations field differently from others?
My major was business law, so I was depressed at that time because I was with people who were not sharing the same values. But I think the law degree makes me understand law principles.
Some of the students here didn’t have theoretical foundations on IR or DC before coming to Ewha GSIS, just like you. Do you have any difficulty following the content in classes?
If you work hard, then it’s okay. And also, the people at Ewha GSIS are really genuine and everyone always tried to help me. We always try to help one another. Even when we don’t know, we can ask questions and people can explain. And the professors are really nice. When you don’t understand, you can just ask. For me, I did all the readings and even more than the required ones, so that I could understand the International Relations theories and all of these things.
After you came here and studied at Ewha GSIS, what do you think is a distinguishing point of this school?
When I was a student, we had Ewha KOICA students. KOICA students are administration officials from developing countries who received a scholarship to do their master’s at Ewha GSIS. When we had a class together, that was interesting. As a DC major, it was a really rich experience because, in class, we could understand their point of view. We can discuss together and understand what is the reality on the ground. I remember that during women and human rights class, we had discussions about many topics on women’s rights and very hard things like rape, or genital mutilation, or bridal kidnapping. There were a lot of things I didn’t know. When those girls could explain their experiences, I understand that many things we saw on TV are cliches. And also, as a DC major, I hope I will work with people like them in the future.
Our friends here are eager to know about the process of writing a thesis. Could you explain the overall process of writing a thesis since this first start and do you have tips or cautions?
Well (laugh). I think it’s also a good thing to challenge yourself. And it depends on what you want to do after that. Because I didn’t know if I wanted to do a Ph.D. or not. I think it is better to have it, just in case in the future.
I was lucky enough because I had ideas about what I wanted to write for one year before I started writing my thesis. I wrote a paper about France and terrorism for my human rights class with Prof. Brendan Howe and he helped me a lot. During my fourth semester, I tried to think about other ideas first, just in case. Because I wanted to write something about development, even if I really like human rights. My major is DC, so I think it may be more logical for me to write something about DC. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I just want to do something I’m really interested in, which is human rights. So, the most important thing is to have an idea before the semester that you have to write the thesis.
For me, I took another semester just to focus on my thesis. At the end of my fourth semester, I already started to read a lot of academic journals and a lot of information about it. And I spent my summer reading stuff related to it, so that could be more advanced when the moment came. Then literature review. That’s funny. I read so much because the literature review takes a lot of time and effort, but actually, that’s the most interesting part.
How do you know that this idea is worth a thesis?
I talked with my professor about it. I had many ideas and I talked with him about it and he told me, for example, the topic is good, there might be a lot of data, but maybe too much. And when I had another topic about development, he told me that this one is good too, but be careful because you might not have enough information, articles, or data about it. So, it’s always important that you have a sufficient amount of previous work done on the topic before writing a thesis about it.
That’s why we have to talk to the professor. We have to make sure that the topic is feasible. So, you should study previous research. In one of your classes, you can write a paper about it, just as a start. That’s better. After that, contact the professor to ask if they think it’s a good idea and ask if they can help you. Start to read as soon as you can. And after you read a lot, you see some gaps in the research that you can fit in to answer. Find a good theoretical framework and do the administration stuff that you can learn from the Ewha GSIS website.
How do we know that it’s enough?
To be honest, it’s never enough. Even when I wrote my thesis and got the thesis back, I was crying. It was so hard to write it and I spent so much time on the first part, which is the literature review and the theoretical framework. So I tried my best to write because I need to send this. I just sent it and I was thinking it is still bad. And after submitting it, we had two weeks while the professors were checking it. During the two weeks, I didn’t do anything. You have to wait for the professors to tell you what they think about it and then get your thesis back. Because I knew there were things I wanted to add, so I modified some parts. I think it will never be enough. You always want to add more. But Professor Willoughby once told me that writing a thesis, even for a Ph.D., is not like the end of the research. It’s only the beginning. So, it’s normal.
Actually, I was very proud because one of my professors told me that my master’s thesis was like the quality of a Ph.D.’s. So, I think if I did it once, I could maybe do it twice.
If you write a thesis, my advice is to read, try to read another person’s work, such as Ewha GSIS students’ theses, and also get inspired by their reference lists. So when you look at someone who already wrote a thesis, you can see what are the main authors in this field. You can also ask professors, but for me, reading another person really helped me. Writing a thesis is hard just because everything is hard when you have deadlines. But I think it’s better to have deadlines, because, if not, you will just read forever.
Do you have any advice for people who want to study in your field? Not sure whether it is DC or IR?
I think if you do something you like, it doesn’t really matter if it’s DC or IR because when you are interested in something, you are more eager to learn about it and to work on the topic. Doing something we like and are interested in is the most important thing. For me, every time I read new academic journals, I understand new ideas. I could also understand how my country is actually working or what is wrong with my country. I could also make some comparisons between, for instance, France and China.
Do you have a future plan for now?
During the writing process, it was hard and demanding because I had to study a lot, but at the same time, I really liked it. My Best Thesis Award just gives me more patient about it. So, now I would like to do a Ph.D.
What is your dream job?
Diplomat or professor, or both.