Liminality resurfaces – I can think of worse things to have on the front page of Liminality than the previous entry on my foray into the world of cheese focaccia, but if I had known it was going to be this long before my next journal writing, I think I would have posted a brief note to that effect. Consider this a belated explanation for the sake of those of you who might not have been in contact with me via email. (By the way, I’m still sifting through accumulated email, so if I haven’t replied to you yet, be assured that a reply is forthcoming. This goes especially for a certain reader whose name begins with “G.”)
There is a lot I could say, but if I were to say it all it would take more time than I have right now, so I’ll keep it brief (OK, maybe not as brief as I had thought—I was expecting to write a note, but out came a full-blown entry). In my last note, I mentioned that I would be starting a new job in March at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Well, that job has started, and Hyunjin and I have moved into faculty housing here on campus. The housing has been somewhat of a trial. They told us we could move in any time after the 29th of February, and we took them at their word and moved in the next day, the first of March. We were quite surprised to find that almost none of the furnishings that had been promised were in place. There was a bed, a table, some chairs, and some dishes and utensils, and that was it. We had nothing else—no refrigerator, no washing machine, no desk, no wardrobe, no television, no gas for the range (which sat dejectedly in the corner), no internet connection, etc. We did have a rice cooker, though, and electricity, and we quickly learned just how many different dishes can be prepared in one of these handy devices. In addition to rice, we’ve made pasta, scrambled eggs, stew, and pretty much anything else that you can throw into a pot and heat up.
Since we moved in, we’ve gotten a few more items of furniture, namely a shoe closet, a wardrobe, and a refrigerator. We still have no washing machine, and the desk that was supposed to arrive yesterday is still not here (so I’m sitting on the floor as I type this). But that’s OK. Not having a washing machine is kind of a bummer, but we have other options (relax—turning our underwear inside out is not one of those options). No matter how inconvenient this may be for us, I try to keep in mind that there are foreign professors here who have not lived in Korea for as long as I have and who do not speak the language. I didn’t know this before, but new professors apparently have priority when it comes to moving into this building, so chances are that a good number of the foreign faculty living here have come directly from overseas. One guy who lives on my floor came over the other day to ask how to use the range—he had no idea that the gas wasn’t even turned on yet. And how would he? There have been no announcements, and he doesn’t speak Korean anyway. Not to say that I find joy in the suffering of others (usually), but it does make me feel more fortunate when I think about the plight of some of the other professors here.
We had originally planned to get by on the furniture they provided, but we have since decided that we really can’t do without a number of items of our own furniture. The most important item of furniture is our bed. I don’t know where they got this bed, but it has to be the most uncomfortable surface I have ever slept on in my entire life—and I’ve slept on some pretty rugged surfaces, including the hard, compacted sand of White Sands, New Mexico. For the past few days we’ve been sleeping on the floor and getting a much better night’s sleep. Our “old” bed (“old” in parentheses because it’s actually almost brand new, one of those really comfortable beds where they set up bowling pins at one end and drop a bowling ball on the other and nothing happens) is thus our top priority. We’re also going to be replacing the refrigerator, which is tiny and already filled. The computer desk (from what I hear) is only 80 centimeters long, so we’re going to be bringing my old desk up, and my bookshelves are coming with it—strangely enough, despite the fact that this is faculty housing, bookshelves were not part of the default furniture set. Lastly, we’ll be bringing up our television set to replace the tiny one here. This will all happen next Monday, and hopefully then this place will start to feel like a real home. I hope they will also turn on the gas at some point so we can start doing some real cooking. The longer we go without gas, the closer we come to being able to publish Rice Cooker Cuisine for Two.
So that’s the housing situation. I know this may sound a bit negative, and I guess it is. I am thankful that things are slowly coming together, and I can appreciate that construction projects can take longer than expected. One of the building staff told me that they weren’t expecting things to be ready until mid-March, which makes me wonder why we were told we could move in at the beginning of March. I suppose this is a case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing. At any rate, things are starting to coalesce, so I am trying to adopt a more positive view of the situation. One way to do that is to just stop talking about it, so I think it’s time to move on.
The job side of the equation has been much better than the housing side of the equation. Trying to deal with all the administrative things that need to be taken care of has been a hassle, but again, I’m fortunate in that I speak Korean and can thus communicate with the office staff. The guy in charge in our office confessed to me the other day that he has never had to deal with incoming foreign faculty before (apparently he’s relatively new to this department), so he didn’t know what my needs were and how to meet them. He also told me that every time I came down to ask him a question, he wrote a memo, and he plans on compiling all this information into a manual for incoming foreign faculty members. I was glad to hear this, because I met a new French professor the other day who doesn’t speak Korean, and he’s like a fish out of water. We went down to the office together yesterday to take care of his questions, but it will be nice to have a ready-made manual full of everything a new faculty member needs to know. I may not benefit from it, but that’s OK—knowing that I directly contributed to its creation is good enough for me.
Things are not all bad, though. Starting any new job—any new life—is stressful, and it always takes time to learn the ropes. You may have noticed that I have been conspicuously silent so far on one very important aspect of my new life—the actual teaching part. Most people who have asked me about my new job have naturally focused on that, and before the semester started my standard line was that I was nervous but excited. Actually, that was a lie—at no point have I ever been nervous about the actual teaching. I realize that there is no way to say this without sounding a bit arrogant, but there was never even a smidgeon of doubt in my mind that I could handle it. I did wonder at times if I was really qualified to teach translation, but that never translated (*cough*) into nervousness about doing it. The truth is, while teaching can be draining, the hours I have spent in the classroom have so far been the best. This was especially true last week, when I probably came close to developing ulcers from worrying about the various administrative responsibilities and housing problems that plagued me. During class, I could forget about everything else and just focus on the material and the students. I looked forward to class for this reason, among others.
I have taught a full week so far and am now into the second week, and although it’s a bit too early to say how things will turn out in the end, I’m optimistic. The students are all very intelligent and eager, but they don’t seem to be as ferociously competitive as I feared they might be. I mean this in a good way—HUFS is a very difficult school to get into, and the students thus have a reputation for being a little cutthroat, but so far I have been relieved to see that they seem fairly laid back. I was even amused to hear some of my students complain about the length of their first homework assignment. When I heard that, I thought, “Ah, yes, they are human after all.” I have no doubt they will rise to the challenge, though, and I’m looking forward to working with all of them throughout the semester.
This is about as much detail as I plan to go into concerning my students, although I may talk more about my own personal experiences and thoughts as the semester goes on. Unlike some of my fellow teachers here, who can apparently write with impunity about their students, I have a feeling it is only a matter of time before my students find this site—if they haven’t found it already. But nothing I’ve said so far has been tainted by that expectation. They really are quite a pleasure to work with, and I really am looking forward to the rest of the semester.
I am typing this at home right now, but in a few moments (after the obligatory read through) I will put it on my thumb drive and head over to the foreign faculty office on the sixth floor of my building, where I have commandeered a computer (i.e., set myself up as the administrator and password protected my account). That’s where I will do the actual uploading, checking of email, etc. It’s not the most convenient set up, but it will work until we get our internet connection here. I’ve been told that this will happen by the end of March, but I’m not going to hold my breath. As with everything else, I have adopted the attitude of “it will happen when it happens.”
I do have another entry that is pretty much finished—I wrote it last week when I was trying to take my mind off the various worries assaulting me—but I thought an update on my situation was in order first. I’m going to be a bit busy for the rest of this week, and the weekend will probably be spent preparing for the final move of some of our old furniture, so it may be another week yet before I post this other entry. Once I settle in to the routine of things here, though, I hope to be posting more often.