A couple of days ago, I received a LinkedIn invitation from the woman pictured above:
Phoebe Le has indicated you are a Friend: "I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn."
I didn't recognize the name or the photo, and since I sometimes receive invitations from people I don't really know, I was about to ignore the request, but for some obscure reason, I decided instead to inquire how we know each other:
I don't recall the name "Phoebe Le." Remind me how we know each other.
Ms. Le replied in very specific terms:
You once taught a Tutorial Writing class for Underwood International College (UIC), Yonsei University (Spring 2008). At that time, I was most likely known by my Vietnamese name: Giang Khanh Le. I wrote a research paper on Italian Renaissance (after switching from the Vietnam War due to my extremely debatable chosen thesis statement). The same paper was nominated by you to UIC Best Essay Award for that school semester (which if I'm not mistaken, later won the title).
I took your class when I'd just begun to learn writing in English as not only you helped me a lot, you also inspired me tremendously with your passion for writing (I followed your blog for a while). I even attempted to look up for more classes of yours the following semesters but unfortunately, you'd decided to transfer to Ewha Womans University. We fell out of touch since.
"Ah!" I thought. "Ms. Giang Khanh Le." I knew her quite well, and as I recalled her better, the image above seemed to come into sharper focus. I then accepted the invitation and wrote back:
Now I remember you very well. I checked your LinkedIn site and noticed that your middle name seems to be "Houghton" -- yet, your marital status is "single." Are you taking two Western names for yourself? . . . It's good to hear from you. I hope that you're doing well. Your English seems very good these days. How is your Korean? Your Vietnamese? Your . . . French?
I also explained that landing a permanent full-time academic job is difficult for me in Korea because Koreans generally consider people in their fifties to be too old to be offered permanent positions. I've read about this Korean cultural phenomenon and also been privately informed that it's true in my case. I added that I had even once been denied a permanent position as a Korean university because the chair of the department felt intimidated by me since I had better publications in her field than she did -- and medieval literature isn't even my
field! Or so I was privately informed. The information came as a surprise since I'd always expected that scholarly achievements would advance one's career. What an irony. Anyway, Ms. Le replied:
I am indeed not married. My middle name was given to me due to a special relationship I had with my Godparents, whose last name is Houghton (they're American).
I find it preposterous that [Korean universities don't] offer you a [permanent] full-time job due to your age. My Macroeconomics professor of a couple semesters back was easily 70 year old (but apparently had some kind of connection with the school's president). But most importantly, I don't think age [usually] has anything to do with teaching ability. In your case, I think your rich scholarly knowledge and experience were accumulated and sharpened over the years. (I still remember being bemusedly embarrassed when you corrected my knowledge about the Vietnam War -- something I was so certain I knew best. Your broad knowledge range impressed me greatly.)
And I must say I am not surprised to hear someone is intimidated by you. As a matter of fact, when I was your student, most of my fellow classmates were also very intimidated by you. Some even dropped out after the first few classes because they thought you were too strict. I was one of the few ones who actually stayed and felt good about our decision. I recall one of the reasons for that is because at that time, my English was so poor as I just wanted to improve it, even if it means crazy discipline. And second, I had always thought classroom is where you learn, not a place to hang out with fun, easygoing professors. Sadly, many student friends of mine thought otherwise.
Anyhow, I've been working hard on my English the past couple years. I can speak much more fluently now, which has made my life a lot easier. My writing, however, has gone wildly terrible. Majoring in Economics, I dealt with numbers more often than with words. Exchanging emails with you makes me feel that deficiency even more clearly. My Korean is sadly still poor. I guess it's because I've been dedicated to learning English for the most part of my time in Korea (which is kind of ironic). I am slowly learning it though. Hopefully I will be able to speak it well in the near future. My Vietnamese is still native. My French has gotten significantly better, from absolutely zero to knowing how to say "Hello" and "Thank you." So has my Spanish. I am therefore very proud.
Ms. Le has a finely honed sense of self-irony that is rare in East Asia. Or at least rarely used. I suppose it's rarely used anywhere.
Anyway, I remember very well working with her on her Renaissance paper. Her writing was a bit rough back then (though she seems quite fluent now), and I spent a lot of time tutoring her during my office hours to improve her writing and offer substantive directions on her ideas. Eventually, she produced an "A+" paper that was so good I nominated it for the UIC Best Essay Award, which it indeed did win. I was gone by the time that award was given, but I learned of it somehow and hoped that it would serve as inspiration to students in future classes with teachers who demand a lot from their students.
One can always hope . . .
Labels: Friends, Humor, Students, Teaching