Life Itself is Good Enough . . .
As Unseen on MH
Over at the Marmot's Hole, the topic of foreigners teaching in Korea was broached, and a number of commentators offered their experiences, a few of these experiences sounding quite dreadful, which then became a subject for debate and name-calling, but I went ahead and offered my own experience and thoughts anyway:
I had tenure at one university here in Korea and lost it when the university reinterpreted its rules to say that no foreigner could have tenure. I learned from a couple of Korean professors there that the reinterpretation came about because the Chinese language department wanted to get rid of a tenured Chinese woman and replace her with a Korean.As one can see, my experience was unfortunate, but not nearly so dreadful as "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish"! Nevertheless, one commentator, who meant well and seemed to be expressing concern, asked if I could sleep easily in Korea and be at peace with myself after my experience. I replied:
I was sorry to lose tenure and its perks, but I had never taken that status there very seriously because I thought little of a tenured spot that would be awarded before a professor had been proven a scholar by publications. The irony was that by the time I left that university, I was publishing above what was expected. I actually deserved tenure at the time it was taken away.
There is obviously massive fraud in Korea's universities. No one can deny that when we've seen three education ministers in the past decade admit to plagiarizing their doctoral thesis. But the scholarly standards are rising, and I personally know several exceptional scholars here -- and I mean Koreans -- some of them brilliant, even profound.
My life here in Korea has not been easy, but life never was. I've been on my own since 18, no financial support from family because they had none to provide, and I can sincerely state that my life here has treated me better than life anywhere I've lived. I have a standard of living that satisfies me, and my academic situation is acceptable. I'll never be the great scholar I wanted to be, but that's not entirely Korea's fault; rather, it's more my own for not following an orthodox academic path in the States and not sounding politically correct enough in my opinions to be inoffensive.
I therefore make do. Teach as best I can. Publish what I can. Not expect too much. Not give up in misfortune. Stand it like a man.
At peace? Well, not entirely, but as I grow older, I see my own faults more and more clearly, and I often find myself -- rather than others -- more to blame for my lack of success. With greater humility than I used to have, I try to handle the misfortunes and challenges that come my way.By "worse," I meant harder and poorer, not worse as a more general characterization of Ozark life, for there are many good things about growing up in the Ozarks. At any rate, the commentator then observed that I sounded a bit saddened by my Korea experience. I thought not, and reminded:
On the more positive side, I have a wonderful wife, a Korean woman I met in Germany . . . on a train. She'd been there nearly ten years, we finished our doctorates at the same time, we got married, we saw a bit more of the world, she came close to being blown up in Jerusalem, but we eventually made our home safely in Korea because we had two kids and I needed a steady job rather than a succession of postdocs.
With my wife's language skills, I've gotten involved in the world of translating and have had the privilege of meeting Park Wan-suh and Ch'oe Yun, among others. My own writing has improved through this translation work, and I've recently written and published a novella, to no great acclaim, but such such is life. Those interested in a peek can preview it here. I'll keep trying.
And Korea is improving. I can now find good coffee, good wine . . . even good beer. Also a variety of food. Plus, there's still a lot to experience in this strange country.
Coming originally from the Arkansas Ozarks, where I did my business in an outhouse till I was five or six, slept above a dirt floor in a basement till I was about ten, and did rural-type manual jobs till I left for university at eighteen, I know that life can be a lot worse, so I can live with the way things are, and the way things are tending, here in Korea . . .
Don't miss the optimistic note in "the way things are tending" . . . but I understand your point, and I admit to lowered expectations about my career.I intended that as humor, of course, just in case someone were to take me too much in earnest. I mean, our universe dies giving birth to a new one, and there's something grand about that, something higher than a shivering "heat death" or a miserly implosion.
I do, however, expect to leave a handful of good stories behind . . . though if certain calculations concerning the Higgs Boson are correct, the universe will someday self-destruct by giving birth to a new universe, implying that any stories I write will be lost forever.
Now, that's utter hopelessness . . .