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Around the World in (Under) 80 Days

Elizabeth Hyun traveled to five post-conflict nations in 10 weeks to study how historical context contributes to trauma diagnoses.

An Open Mind to Therapy

Buenos Aires, Argentina
Elizabeth Hyun stands in front of a structure in Buenos Aires
Elizabeth Hyun at the Obelisk of Buenos Aires. Credit: Elizabeth Hyun

Senior global health and neuroscience double major Elizabeth Hyun started her journey in Buenos Aires, where she interviewed psychologists who focus on trauma. She worried that interviewees would be reluctant to discuss how the Dirty War — a period of military dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s and ’80s — affected their work. But instead she found that acceptance of mental health struggles is a cultural norm. “When I asked the psychologists about stigma around receiving therapy, they all said there is no such thing in Argentina,” Hyun says. “Buenos Aires has one of the world’s highest ratios of psychologists and therapists to citizens.” 

Immersed in History

Belfast, Northern Ireland
A large mural on a building showing a woman
Credit: Elizabeth Hyun

Hyun interviewed psychologists in Belfast and visited sites related to the Troubles, the late-20th-century period of conflict between unionists who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom and nationalists who wanted to join the Republic of Ireland. “It was overwhelming to be where these car bombings and shootings happened,” Hyun says. But she was impressed with the Regional Trauma Network because of its holistic approach to treating trauma. “They collaborate with community organizations, and their team includes many different roles — not just therapists.” 

Comfort in Community

Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina
Credit: Elizabeth Hyun

After a month of solo travel, Hyun landed in Sarajevo, where she explored the city with other Northwestern study abroad students. “It was so different to go from traveling by yourself and knowing no one to being in a place where people are looking out for you,” Hyun says. Continuing her research, she interviewed staff at Wings of Hope, a nonprofit that promotes human rights, education and mental health support. One interviewee told Hyun that his background in peace-building projects has proved useful in his work as a psychotherapist, as many of his clients experience trauma related to the Bosnian War of the early 1990s. 

An Unexpected Challenge

Tokyo, Japan
Elizabeth Hyun smiles in Tokyo
Credit: Elizabeth Hyun

After arriving in Tokyo, Hyun spent a week preparing for interviews. But then she was hospitalized for an illness unexpectedly. Though she recovered after one week, Hyun had to cancel most of her interviews as a result. Still, her time in Japan taught her a lesson in prioritizing her well-being while abroad. “When you’re traveling for 10 consecutive weeks, you have to check in with yourself,” she says. “It’s OK to rest. It doesn’t mean you’re wasting a day.” 

Culture Shift

Seoul, South Korea
Elizabeth Hyun smiles in Seoul, South Korea
Credit: Elizabeth Hyun

Hyun ended her trip in her birthplace, South Korea, her “home away from home.” Having grown up “between American and Korean cultures,” it was interesting to assess the mental health landscape in Seoul from a research perspective, she says. She noted a shift in the public’s perception of trauma following recent events such as the 2014 sinking of the Sewol ferry, when 250 schoolchildren died, and the 2022 Halloween crowd crush in Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood, which resulted in 159 deaths. In recent decades, the nation has shifted from “perceiving trauma as something one needs to suppress to something that is deserving of help,” Hyun wrote on her travel blog. 

Elizabeth Hyun’s Circumnavigators Travel-Study Grant was provided by Northwestern’s Office of Undergraduate Research and the Chicago Chapter of the Circumnavigators Club. Read her travel blog.  

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