Jeong has been an animal lover since she was young. As she lived near paddies and mountains, she had chance to see various animals. She naturally enjoyed herself around wild animals.
“I was able to see many animals every time I opened the window,” Jeong recalled. “When I was seven, I saw a dead bird in front of my house. I looked at an illustrated bird guide book and found out the bird was called the pintail snipe.”
As a child with strong attachment to birds, she kept various animals for pets such as fish, hedgehog, birds and so on. It was at the age of 11, when she started pinpointing her interests to birds and studying in earnest. Shocked at reading a newspaper article regarding flocks of eagles’ death, the young girl’s mere interest toward birds migrated to an academic curiosity.
“An eagle is a much bigger bird than what people usually think,” Jeong said. “It was a horrible experience to watch such a big animal lying dead hopelessly. The eagles died because of pesticides used by farmers. I decided to do something about it to save their lives.”
Ever since then, Jeong has been an enthusiastic bird researcher, she did not merely skim through books on birds or look up in the sky for birds, rather, she actually went on field trips to observe and study. Supporting her passion for birds, her mother who majored in pedagogy encouraged Jeong a lot. Whenever specific migratory birds appeared in Korea, she took young Jeong to observe those birds.
“Unlike other parents, my mom let me do whatever I wanted,” Jeong said. “She also helped my interests go further by encouraging me to write journals or research more about birds.”
With her mother’s educational philosophy, she was consistently able to study birds and go on field trips. Even after she became a high school student, she continued to go on field trips to watch birds, including overseas excursions, such as Japan and Mongolia. When she was in high school, she even received a special prize and a prime minister prize for her paper about the eagle owl at National Science Exhibition.
Immediately after finishing her undergraduate courses, Jeong is now pursuing a Master’s degree at Ewha. Her current research deals with migratory patterns of swallows. She tied tags on the swallows’ feet so that she can track their route. While researching swallows, she discovered with interest that some swallows come back to the same nest for six years in a row.
“The swallows coming back for their nest intrigued me,” Jeong said. “I decided to seriously research these swallows since last year. Other than tracking down their routes, I weighed mother swallows and their eggs, and when the eggs start to hatch, I weighed them periodically and compare the data to that of their mother. Swallow research in Korea is rare, but in other countries, it is more popular.”
Her passion for birds got some public attention. She had opportunities to engage in activities other than academics. For one, the producer of Yellow Bird, an animation movie, asked her to participate in promoting the film. In 2010, she was also invited to write a message for actor So Ji-seob’s essay book entitled The Way about pursuing dreams. Jeong continuously strives for her dream to be a researcher who communicates well with people like the ethologist Jane Goodall.
“Though I have never worried about my future, being a researcher, sometimes others worry that perhaps I cannot earn a living well,” Jeong said. “Still, when I look around, I do have my role in my own field. So even if you have any problems reaching for your dream, I can assure you have to follow your dreams.”