Looking back and looking ahead – Today begins our final week in Cambridge, and before we go I’d like to look back on some of the things I am going to miss—but also to look forward to some things I will be glad to get back to in Korea. To start, here are five things I will miss about Cambridge.
All the wonderful people
This is probably going to sound cliched, but I really will miss the people I’ve met here the most. This semester I shared an office at the Korean Institute with three other people, a prospect that I was honestly a little apprehensive about, since I’m used to having my own office. Happily, though, Maya, Matt, and Angela all turned out to be great people, and I couldn’t ask for a better office dynamic. These are the people I’ve probably spent the most time with here, but actually everyone at the KI and in the Folklore & Mythology department (where I spent the spring semester) have been wonderful. I’ve made some good friends, and it will be sad to leave them behind.
Another big part of our life here in Cambridge has been our church family at First Church. Everyone there has been so welcoming and caring, and we truly felt like we found a home there. Today was our last Sunday, and it also happened to be the Christmas banquet and party after the service, so we got a chance to say goodbye to everyone we’ve come to know and love over the past year.
Finally, I’ll miss the monthly PR-IF meetings at MIT. Just as I started feeling like a real part of the group, it’s time to go!
Being in a small but culturally vibrant city
Boston is a small city, even if we’re not comparing it to Seoul. We live in Cambridge, but we can still walk to Boston, and have on many occasions. In fact, we walked into Boston today despite the cold, stopping for brunch at Friendly Toast in Kendall Square and then crossing Longfellow Bridge before heading down Beacon Street to look at the antique shops. On our first Saturday here, we walked into Boston and wandered down Beacon Street before heading into the common, so it seemed only fitting to do the same on our last Saturday here.
Despite being a small city, there is still a lot to do and see in Boston; Cambridge is much the same way. One nice thing about being a visiting scholar at Harvard was having free access to all the university museums, and there are a lot of them. We were also able to get discounted tickets to museums and shows in Boston through the university, so we were able to appreciate a lot of the culture the city has to offer. Seoul has plenty of culture as well, but getting from one place to another can sometimes be a pain; I will miss being able to walk everywhere.
The clean air
This is not something I thought would be as important to me as it has become but with all the walking we did this year, we had plenty of time to appreciate how clean the air is here. The air has gotten drastically worse in Seoul over the past few years—not that the worst days are necessarily getting that much worse, but there seem to be more really bad days throughout the year, when it used to be mainly a few days in the spring. Here, though, when the sky is blue and the sun is shining—like today—it’s almost too bright. I really am going to miss that, and not having to chew my air.
The peace and quiet
Despite being a college town, Cambridge is surprisingly quiet at night. Our place for the spring semester was on a street with no through traffic and thus generally very quiet, but when we moved here I was a little worried about being so close to Radcliffe Quad (which is right down the street). With the exception of the rare group of loud students walking back to the dormitories on Friday nights, though, this neighborhood is very quiet, too. Well, if you don’t count the little dog who lives in the apartment below us and yaps constantly (and would also likely try to bite our faces off if he could). But I guess you can’t have it all.
On the other hand, Seoul is a very noisy city. As with the air, this is something I didn’t fully appreciate until we arrived here in Cambridge. I do remember once last year when I met up with a friend who had just returned from an extended trip to the States, and we went to Hongdae for drinks. He was dazed at the lights, the noise, and all the people. I have a feeling that I am going to be similarly dazed when I go back, and it may take me a little while to readjust to the density of the city.
All the microbreweries and craft beer
So, this one has been a bit of a mixed blessing. There are a number of microbreweries and plenty of good bars within walking distance, and Boston often has craft beer festivals (I’ve been to two this year). This has meant that, on the positive side, I’ve been able to drink a lot of really good beers this year. But this also meant that, on the negative side, I’ve been able to drink a lot of beer this year, period. I will miss the beer scene, no doubt, but at the same time I know it’s time (if not past time) to reign things in again.
Though I will miss all of these things (and many more little things), there are also plenty of reasons to look forward to going back to Korea. Here are five that have been on my mind.
Getting back to friends and family
Like my first item above, this is probably obvious, too, but it doesn’t make it any less true. On the family side, I have two little nieces now, and they’ve had an entire year to grow up while we’ve been gone. I know that HJ is really looking forward to getting back to see them, but I will admit that I am, too. I also have a bunch of friends who are waiting for me to return. Mike, Steve, John, and the other members of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are patiently waiting for another night of meat and beer (I will cut down on the beer eventually, honest). Kevin has promised a variety of foods and treats to fete our return, and I’m looking forward to getting back together with the dynamic (and dangerous) duo of Tom and Patrick as well (even if I have no intention of ever doing Kakao). And there are a lot of friends and colleagues at SNU that I need to catch up with as well.
Getting back to teaching and students
Perhaps the weirdest thing about this year has been the fact that I haven’t taught at all. That’s kind of the point, I suppose, and I was able to get a lot of reading and research done as a result, but for as much time and energy as it consumes, I do miss teaching. During my time here at Harvard I have learned quite a bit, both in terms of learning more about my field and more about teaching in general, and I am really looking forward to getting back to SNU and sharing all of this with my students. Hopefully I will be able to integrate my experiences into my teaching and bring something new to the table.
We have, of course, not been entirely without Korean food during our year here, but it will be nice to be back in a city where I can have good Korean food all the time. HJ has been keeping tabs on new restaurants that have been popping up in our neighborhood (the pace of change in Seoul is frenetic), and she already has a list of places to go—the first is a new fish fry joint. And there are the old favorites to get back to as well, like our favorite kimchi jjigae place.
I genuinely did not foresee this one at all, but Boston and Cambridge are really flat. I’ve had people tell me that Porter Square is on a hill, but I suspect that these people might have been hallucinating. I think the highest elevation in the immediate area is the hill on top of which sits Washington Tower in Mt. Auburn Cemetery, and that takes roughly thirty seconds to walk up. I miss real mountains. I miss looking out our window in the morning at the slopes of Mt. Gwanak, be they covered in the fresh green of spring or the white snow of winter. I miss being able to walk out the front door and, in a matter of minutes, be rising above everything.
A break from American politics
While it has been great to be here, I probably couldn’t have picked a more tumultuous year in American politics. It’s not that I am suddenly going to stop paying attention to things when I go back to Korea, but it will be nice not to have to think about it all the time, not to be surrounded by people who are incredibly polarized in their political opinions in a time when political moderates seem to be about as common as unicorns. Of course, Korea has its own political issues, but I think I might even be glad to get back to that and leave this quagmire behind. To be perfectly honest, it’s just downright exhausting sometimes.
So, there are five things I will miss and five things I am looking forward to. And time continues to march relentlessly onward, toward the day that the former become memories and the latter become reality.