Canadian blogger studies 'Gusts of Popular Feeling' - Korea Times
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Canadian blogger studies 'Gusts of Popular Feeling'

By Jon Dunbar

When Canadian blogger Matt Van Volkenburg left Korea last summer, his site "Gusts of Popular Feeling," or "Popular Gusts" for short, fell inactive.

All fears that his site was finished were quelled in February when he returned with new content. But with the latest post on dated to June 15, where has he gone now?

It turns out he's returned to Korea for a six-week stay.

"I'd assumed I'd do more blogging during my visit to Korea," he told The Korea Times, "but studying Korean and catching up with friends, as well as doing research, has taken up most of my time."

He's back for a Korean language program at Seoul National University, in the midst of his Korean studies master's program at the University of Washington in the U.S. Last year's half-year break was the result of a busy academic schedule, but he's managed to find time to continue updating the site.

His research-intensive blog has proved fertile grounds for the master's program, and he suspects it may have helped him win the George Long Fellowship that made his studies in the U.S. possible.

"The experience of writing thousands of words weekly on my blog over the years certainly has honed my writing skills, so that's been a great benefit in graduate school," he added. "I've always had an interest in history, and studied it in undergrad."

Taking its namesake from an 1898 quote by English explorer Isabella Bird Bishop, Popular Gusts presents topics on Korea ranging from media depictions of foreigners to urban development, with a sharp historical viewpoint backed by statistics and translated documents. Van Volkenburg's commitment to fact over rhetoric has earned him a reputation as one of Korea's top foreign bloggers.

"It was a desire to confirm or clarify stories about foreign English teachers I heard on the Internet that prompted me to write a lengthy post in 2007 about media perceptions of foreigners going back to the 1990s," he said. "This became a fruitful topic to focus on."

His work caught the attention of U.S. attorney Benjamin Wagner, who was looking into the legal implications of imposing drug and HIV tests on foreign teachers on E-2 visas. He contacted van Volkenburg and the two ended up researching the topic together for years.

Van Volkenburg intends to pursue a Ph.D. in Korean history after netting his master's.

"The blog will continue, however," he assured readers, "just in a more intermittent form, and to assuage the concerns some of my readers have voiced, I would never take down the blog's archives."

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