Han-Jung "Kokoro" Ko, MS

Q&A with Han-Jung "Kokoro" Ko, MS, from Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR

han-jungkoMeet Kokoro.

“Remember everyone is experiencing aging at every moment and we can learn from each other to understand the variety of processes.”

Q: Tell us a little about what you are doing right now.
A: I am a fourth year doctoral student in Human Development and Family Sciences at Oregon State University. Being an international student from Taiwan, throughout my graduate training, I always compare my Taiwanese social and cultural experiences with my increasing American experiences. I am currently working on my dissertation examining changes in the degree of purpose in life among adults between late midlife to early older adulthood, and further explore individuals’ life stories to understand the observed changes. My research interest is to understand lifespan development by incorporating stability and changes in personality traits and states, goals and self-regulation, and life stories.   

Q: Tell us about your most recent activities and accomplishments.
A: I have been working on a cross-cultural project with my graduate colleague, Pamela Allen, and our adviser, Dr. Karen Hooker since 2012. We have collected survey data from college students both in the U.S. and Taiwan about their perception of aging. In summer 2013, we were awarded with the OSU Graduate Internationalization Grant to support us collecting surveys and interviewing older adults in Taipei, Taiwan. There is still much to explore before we could draw some conclusions from this study whether and how perception of aging differs between two cultures. However, it is both intellectually and culturally rewarding for me to study aging experiences for older adults in Taiwan with my native language, Taiwanese and Mandarin, as well as applying the research skills I learned in the U.S.

Q: Have you had an important mentor(s) in your career? If so, how did it make a difference?
A: I have had many mentors in my education process. My current graduate adviser, Karen Hooker has always supported me and advised when I needed to adjust my goals. Dr. Jim Birren and Cheryl Svensson at University of Southern California introduced me to autobiographical research and inspired me to focus on life story research. In undergraduate, Dr. Li-Jen Weng had encouraged me to pursue a career in gerontology given my deep love for Taiwanese older adults and their relationships with other generations.

Q: What are your motivations for studying aging?
A: I grew up in a close community network, where everyone helped each other. In my culture, people tend to respect adults over certain age, maybe 60, as own grandparents. I grew up with my great grandparents and my grandmothers. In my first few years in elementary school, I remembered stopped on the way home and visited a man in wheelchair, who I respected as my great grandfather. Retrospectively, I realized that was the beginning of my admiration and respect for older adults. Since college, I have volunteered for a community of school children, parents, and solidary older adults. These earlier experiences have inspired my goals to become a lifespan gerontologist to teach, research, and train more future generations to serve older adults and their families.

Q: What has been your most memorable experience in gerontology and aging research?
A: To be honest, I am still at the beginning of conducting independent research. However, I would never forget the intergenerational group I had at Dr. Birren’s autobiographical class. Each group had a few students and older adults. We wrote about specific themes in life and shared with each other every week in class. It was when I strongly realized even with the distinct cultural, language, and age differences, we shared enough commonalities in life to make me feel connected. Each of us is not alone in our life journeys. I also appreciated the love and support from my American grandmother, Muriel Rothenberg. I met her at the first meeting with the older adult volunteers at USC and became friends ever since. Even though not in a real, approved study setting, I love interviewing my own grandmothers in Taiwan whenever I have a chance.

Q: Tell us about your involvement in GSA.
A: My first GSA meeting was in 2009. Ever since, the annual conference is always like a pilgrimage trip to me. In the process of my academic journey, figuring out a niche consistent with my passion for narratives, I have had ups and downs. Sometimes I was not able to connect with the general attendees and made no contributions to the greater understanding of aging. However, I always gained supports from GSA at different time points and in different capacities, either at meetings, e-mail updates, webinars, and one-on-one interactions.

Q: How do you feel GSA serves the field of gerontology and aging research?
A: GSA is an important organization to gather gerontological researchers around the world and treat each other like family. There are many brilliant researchers and mentors at GSA that I would like to learn from and collaborate with in the future. I also hope to contribute to engage more research incorporating other cultures and nations besides North America and Europe.

Q: Is there anything unique about yourself and experiences that you would like to share?
A: Being an international student, I would like to help expand the international community at GSA. I have not seen many Taiwanese scholars at the annual meetings at GSA. Besides Interest Group mailing list, I think we need a platform where international scholars could build connections, share research ideas, and collaborate with scholars from the world to understand aging in different cultures.

Q: Do you have any tips for emerging gerontologists?
A: “莫忘初衷” has been my motto, meaning “Do not forget what you intended to pursue at the beginning (of your career and/or life).” Find your passions in aging research and share with people around you whenever possible. Be open-minded beyond own academic circles. Remember everyone is experiencing aging at every moment and we can learn from each other to understand the variety of processes.

Want to ask Kokoro a question? Contact her on GSA Connect!