The end of an era – Tomorrow is a big day. After having spent six years here in the faculty apartments at HUFS, we will be moving down to the faculty apartments outside the rear gate of SNU. I was thinking about this the other day, and I realized that this is the longest HJ have lived in any one place since we first got married, and we have in fact spent a third of our married life here. Going even further back, this is the longest I have spent in a single place since I lived in my parents’ house, until the end of high school. That was, um, a few years ago.
It’s not just the moving that is a big deal, of course. Although my employment at HUFS does not officially end until the end of the month (this Friday is technically my last day), the removal of my physical presence from the campus in my mind marks the end of my stay here. I have already cleared out my desk in the office I shared with some of the other foreign professors, and I of course have had nothing to do with the planning for the new semester, so you could say that it all ended weeks ago, but if nothing else this seems like as good a time as any to say my goodbyes here.
I came to the GSIT in March of 2008, one semester after I finished my PhD coursework at SNU. It was a stroke of good fortune that brought me here—when I won the prize for new translators awarded by LTI Korea, I shared the stage with a GSIT professor who was awarded the grand prize for translation that year. She remembered this encounter, and in the semester after I finished my coursework at SNU she called me up and asked me if I would like to teach translation at the GSIT. At the time, a friend of mine was visiting from the States, and we were out playing pool somewhere. I still remember this quite vividly.
I came to the GSIT with no small amount of trepidation. This was my first university teaching job, and I had heard that the HUFS students spoke English very well. Not that I was concerned about my own English, of course—although, truth be told, before I came to HUFS I didn’t actually speak all that much English—but I was a little worried about the students’ high expectations. The students that first year did not disappoint me. Their expectations were indeed high, but at the same time they were very motivated and willing to put in the effort to help realize those expectations. After all, a teacher can only do so much on his or her own.
When I first arrived at the GSIT, I was told that there were plans to start a translation-only major program in the English-Korean section. As it was, students entered the school, studied for a year, and then took a placement exam that determined whether they would spend their second year in the (more selective) international conference interpretation program or the translation and interpretation program. The difference between the two is that the former focuses on simultaneous interpretation and includes little in the way of translation, while the latter mixes translation and consecutive interpretation. But the translation major was still a distant dream when I started at GSIT, so I ended up teaching some of the translation classes for the latter program.
Three years ago, though, the distant dream became a reality. Students who chose this program can still take consecutive interpretation courses as electives, but their coursework focuses primarily on translation, and there is no placement exam. I helped with the planning for this major, and when it was finally realized I taught a number of the into-English translation courses for these students. The translation major is a much smaller program than the general major, with around ten or so students, and I sometimes had these students in more than one class per semester, so I naturally grew close to them. I still taught general major students (usually in their second year), but it would be no exaggeration to say that I focused primarily on the translation major.
I have seen two classes graduate from the translation major, and these students still keep in touch with me. The third class, of course, has only just finished their first year and still has their second year to go. I am genuinely saddened that they will be doing this without me, but opportunity came knocking and I was not going to turn it away at the door. It is, as you can imagine, bittersweet: I am at last going to have the opportunity to teach Korean Studies classes, but at the same time I am leaving behind a group of students that I have already grown quite close to.
The thing is that this was always going to happen. I have enjoyed my time at HUFS and at the GSIT, but in the back of my mind I was always thinking about the next step. While I enjoyed teaching translation, I was always on the lookout for an opportunity to teach Korean Studies. So at some point in time, a group of students was inevitably going to be left behind. Perhaps it is a little selfish of me to feel this way, but they are my students. I know that the GSIT will take care of them, and I know that they will go on to graduate and make their way in the world just fine, but part of me wishes it was somehow possible to see them through to the end. It is not, though, so I leave in medias res, as I knew I someday would.
I don’t know what I expected when I first came to HUFS. I don’t think I really had any specific expectations, to be honest. If I had any vague hopes at all for the job, though, I can safely say that my experience here went beyond them. Every job has its wrinkles, of course, but overall it has been a very rewarding time. My colleagues have all been great and supportive, and I have made some very good friends here, both in the GSIT and elsewhere—friends that will last beyond my time at HUFS. The students have also been exceptional, and it was both a pleasure and an honor to have taught them. I think I probably learned as much (if not more) from them as they did from me. I will miss them, and I genuinely hope that they keep in touch (yes, I know that some of you have found this and spy on me from time to time).
Thus ends what has been a very important period in my life. It was a time of new experiences, new friends, and new ideas. It was a time of growth and learning. I will talk a little about the time to come in my next entry here, but for today I just wanted to look back at my time at HUFS, to set down here things that I have perhaps not said publicly before, and by doing so also to say, “Thank you” to everyone who made these years memorable.