Two seniors Jessica Bernstein and Zane Riester this year bring to 42 the number of Union students who have won Watson Fellowships since the program began in 1969. Bernstein's Watson is profiled below. Riester, who plans to
study architectural similarities between Renaissance churches and beaux-arts train stations in Italy, France and the U.K., will be featured in the next issue.
Jessica Bernstein '97 never thought her formidable skill in Tae
Kwon Do would do her much good in an interview. But there she was, in front of the
Watson committee, performing a series of kicks and punches.
Her demonstration of the ancient Korean martial art combined with
her thoughtful analysis of its meaning for women in modern culture has earned her a
Thomas J. Watson Travelling Fellowship. Starting in August, she will use the $18,000
fellowship to study female Tae Kwon Do artists in South Korea, Great Britain and Norway.
“I want to find out what these women's stories are, how Tae
Kwon Do is helping them in their lives, how they are training, what their goals are,”
said Bernstein, a philosophy major. “The web of communication in women's Tae
Kwon Do is not established at all. I just want to put together a piece of literature
releasing these women's voices so that someone who has the same questions I have can
find out something about it.”
Among her questions, Bernstein said she wants to find out why so few
women practice Tae Kwon Do, why so few attain levels of authority in the sport, and what
draws women into the sport. Bernstein, a first-degree black belt who hopes one day to
become an instructor, said she also wants to learn how westernization and competition have
affected the 2,000-year-old art form.
As a teenager competing in Junior Olympic national tournaments across
the country, she witnessed political clashes between organizations, disagreements between
instructors, and parents who protest referee decisions. She also found what she thinks is
a product-driven approach “belt factories” that accelerate students
through the ranks.
She also has found that a lot of schools are using fear to draw women
into classes. “Self defense is an aspect of Tae Kwon Do, but it's not the most
important thing that women can gain from it,” she said. “There's a whole
other spiritual side of it that is very empowering.”
During her Watson fellowship, she will spend 6 months in South Korea,
where she will visit a Buddhist temple that is a shrine to Tae Kwon Do statuary and a
number of the 1,100 institutes that teach the martial art. She will then spend three
months in England, observing women Tae Kwon Do artists in a western country. She will
spend the last three months of the fellowship in Norway, a country whose progressive and
liberal views will provide an interesting contrast, she said.
While at Union, Bernstein has been active in Mountebanks, Big
Brothers/Big Sisters, Literacy Volunteers, rugby and WRUC. She took a term abroad in
Israel in 1995.
“I knew that I wanted to apply for the Watson and that it had to be
a good idea,” she said. “So rather than search outside of myself, I looked at my
personal experience in Tae Kwon Do and the questions that I've wanted to
“It's a beautiful and amazing art form,” she continued,
“As a personal agenda, when I teach Tae Kwon Do, I want to be the best teacher that I