Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Welcome to Korean Academia

Yesterday was Monday. Monday was my first day of work at my brand new job at 888 University. 888 hired me (rather at the last minute) in the third week of July, and I had been running like crazy just to make it to Korea-- I arrived Saturday night, so Monday I was still dealing with massive jet lag.

Monday morning, of course, I woke up at 4 a.m. After it got light out, took a lovely walk up the road to the end of campus and then up a narrow mountain hiking trail. The woods were beautiful and the temperature was just right. Not long after I returned to my residence I got an email from Professor Hong Seok-u, my first email from a bona-fide colleague (picture me excited). Professor Hong, from the Department of Ukrainian Studies (yes, we have such a department) was inquiring if I'd like to teach a class. The wording was unclear-- did he mean just come and lecture one day? I agreed to coffee or lunch, and on the phone we confirmed time and place. After we met up at the coffee shop Professor Hong decided to take me to the best cafeteria, near the Institute of Russian Studies (I am still learning all these buildings and it was the first time I'd even been to that part of campus). There, by coincidence, we saw his good friend (and undergraduate classmate) Professor Song Junseo (a Russian historian). We had lunch and they informed me about many aspects of working for 888 U. By the time lunch was over, I had agreed to teach a class on Contemporary Popular Culture (to the students of Ukrainian Studies). Professor Hong then walked me by a mountain path (yes!!!!-- except for the fact that I was wearing 3 inch heels on 1 inch platform) to the main admin building where I had a meeting with the staff.

I was faced, in this meeting, with the unfortunate reality that in Korea they calculate grades of professor in a very strange way, and were threatening to drop me down a pay grade (a difference of 500 a month). Yes this means I have yet to see my contract, although I am trusting enough (or understanding of Korea enough) to be here. I persevered in this meeting, trying to keep my voice from rising, as I argued that they had decided to hire me not because I already had at least two years teaching experience post-university, but because they saw me as the right match for their program. All this negotiation, of course, happened in Korea.

When I won, I was also told that they might pay me less this semester as I'm "just" doing curriculum development. A few minutes later it was determined that I am also teaching another class-- "Contemporary Korean Culture and Society." Perhaps with two classes and my curriculum development duties my pay is safe.

Naturally I spent most of the rest of the evening (while meeting and enjoying dinner with Heather) worrying through the increased fog of jet lag how I was going to teach a class the NEXT MORNING on a topic I'd never even taken a class in. Facebook friends came through sending me readings (as my books are in transit from CA right now) and good ideas.
A series of photos of the residential area. In the top photo, second floor from the top, the three windows closest to the mountain are my windows.

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