Friday, March 21, 2014

Teaching Modern Korean History

I love history. Even Mr. Jacobs couldn't cure me of my love of history. That high school teacher of mine may have taught me the lesson that blonds with big tits and few questions are preferred over super eager students like me, but I didn't blame history for my lazy, sexist, and relatively under-educated teacher.

During my MA I had a history teacher, Lew Young Ick, whom I previously wrote about on this blog (here). He actually lectured us like we were high school students and gave us quizzes and the sort of tests where you memorize a (*#%&) load of facts. But I never felt like he was anything but the best professor ever because his knowledge was so encyclopedic it was almost unreal. Due to his teaching style I sometimes felt slightly disregarded (he never treated us like emerging scholars), but I learned a TON and earned his respect, especially by the end of the second class I took with him.

It was his lectures that I was able to rely on in the years between then and now --- I still have typed notes from every class. The understanding I got from Professor Lew has structured my entire understanding of Korean history. And as I now teach Modern Korean History to my own students, I again turn to his lecture notes to form the outline for my own lecture. Then I fill in and flesh out what I am going to say based on reading from authors who are often more middle of the road or towards the left than uber-conservative Dr. Lew. However, in Korean history (ironically) I am something of a conservative. In Korean history being conservative means being able to go beyond a place of "Japan is evil" and "Korea would have become everything it was meant to be, including a liberal democracy independently and just as fast if Japan hadn't occupied Korea" -- this being the position of the liberal historians (also called nationalist historians and that gets confusing being nationalists in other areas of the world are the conservatives, not the liberals). So to be a conservative historian of Korean means that you can blame the US and Japan for the various phenomenally bad things they did (like occupying the country), but you can also more impartially admit that Japan did help modernize Korea, even if it motivated by a Japanese desire to make Korea into a more profitable colony.

The first full class we discussed Korea's new relationships with Japan and the US, and changing relations with China. The second full class was on the enlightenment movement, the failed Gapsin Coup, plus Russia and England. Next week we'll be discussing the Donghak Movement and basically bringing Korea from late 1880s to almost colonization.

It's an exciting time...
The Bobingsa Mission to the USA (note my bad-boy historical boyfriend 서광범 front second from the right)
Here's Seo Gwangbeom again. 

The last two kings, ahem, emperors of Korea

Saturday, March 8, 2014

New Semester, New Department, Counting my Blessings

I am really blessed. I get to teach something I am really passionate about-- Korean Studies-- to a bunch of free, young, interested students. I have 20 students, 17 are women, all 20 are Korean.

So that's 20 blessings right there.

And the department gets 3 assistants-- that's another three blessings. The chair told the students to submit their info if they wanted to be a department assistant (it's work, but it comes with what I believe is a full tuition waiver). One assistant was already determined-- a fourth year student from the chair's department (Serbia-Croatian studies)-- because we needed someone who had enough of an idea of how the campus works and who to turn to for help that we wouldn't be at the mercy of three assistants who were all first year and pretty overwhelmed.

I suggested to the chair that the students should be chosen based on financial need. As it turned out only two students applied (and they all knew about it so I guess only those two feel any need), and they will start next week. The fourth year student, though, is already giving me TONS of reasons to count my blessings. She's smart and takes care of stuff, so that I don't need to worry about it, or waste time on minor things. For example, she took a stack of books where I had marked some images for scanning to the copy center. She'll also get the completed scans, email them to me, and return the books to the office. Now that's the kind of stuff I am so happy to have someone do, so that I can concentrate on creating the PPT that will incorporate the images, and not worry about leaving my office while the copy center is still open.

Another blessing is that my health is still with me. I had a health scare this week and didn't have time to deal with it. I trusted (had no option but to trust) that my body would take care of itself, although I did need some reassurance and scolding from my good friend Georgy. Feel free to encourage me to eat more iron, though, because among other things I think I may be full on anemic at the moment.

I was able to see Lina, who will co-teach the Korean Culture and Society class, in person, for the first time since 2006. I really like her, so that was awesome. Definitely another blessing.

And my amazing friend Kim came to visit Korea with her friend Randy, and they spent the night and had a lovely dinner with me (if I do compliment my own food).

That's at least 26 blessings, without getting into small things like the taste of Hallabong (a native Korean citrus fruit that ROCKS), coffee, or finally having a long conversation with my husband (the phones have been funky lately).

Friday, March 7, 2014

The School Year Has Begun!

There are so many things I've started to write and haven't finished... maybe I will. Don't hold your breath. In the meantime, let me tell you about the start of the school year:

It's Saturday, the first week is done and I'm sitting in my office, listening to Karjam singing (unfortunately not live) and determined to finish a ton of class prep today.

Intro to Modern Korean History (for majors)
(5 weeks only): Intro to Korean Culture and Society (for majors)
(every week): Intro to Korean Studies I (for majors)
(teaching 5 weeks, attending every week): Intro to Korean Music: Pungmul Drumming (for majors)
Contemporary Korean Culture and Society (for non-majors)
Modern Korean History (for graduate students in Korean Studies or International Studies)

This week was the first week, and usually first week classes are so easy-- you spend time on the syllabus and letting students know the expectations for the course and you try to get to know them and let them learn enough about you to suss out if they really want to take the class. But when it's your department and it's the same students on Monday and all three classes on Tuesday, it's very different... you really have to start teaching right away because you can't do introductory games and conversation for 11 hours! The students are not required to take all the classes--the required class is Intro to Korean Studies I and the rest of the classes are optional-- but of course they need a certain number of credits to graduate. So almost all of them are enrolled in all four classes (two students elected not take the history course and one student isn't taking the music course). They are also enrolled in various other courses that meet distribution requirements.

Next week I won't be teaching Korean Culture and Society, but rather Lyudmila will spend 5 weeks with them teaching them how to look at Korean culture and society through Korean literature. Then I get them, and at the end of the semester Lina (a friend from my MA at Yonsei University who is doing her doctoral dissertation research in Korea right now) will teach them about Korean Social Movements for 5 weeks. For the Korean Music class, however, I will always attend even when I'm not providing lectures on Korean music. On those days (about 9 or 10 of the 16 weeks) my friend Go Seokjin will teach them drumming on the janggu or hourglass drum. The style they will start with this semester is the style from Imshil Pilbong Nongak, also the style played here on campus by the student club. I am hoping to integrate my students with the club and then with attendance at the transmission center in Pilbong. An ideal outcome for me will be to find a way to give students credit for attending a certain number of weeks of classes in Pilbong during their vacations. I still have to figure out how that will work out, though. And my new chair, who I love in every other way, seems to be very nervous about the connection of pungmul drumming with politics and will NOT listen to me when I assert that the kids these days are not interested in politics and just want to play the music. I hope to get him to listen to common sense, soon.

So far I love the personalities and attitude of all my major students.

On Wednesday I taught my non-major class... that was stressful. First of all the classroom that was mine on the schedule was being occupied by another class. What the heck! Finally we started, at least 15 minutes late, in a different classroom, but it was NOT the way I want to make a first impression!!! Then the students included two students who spoke no English, even though the class is listed as being taught in English. These students (who are from China and from Uzbekistan-- it's not Korean students who are totally unprepared to use English) really wanted to take the class, and the students in the class really wanted to meet more foreigners and make foreign friends... this left me in a quandry over what to do. If I told the two foreign students to leave, we'd lose 2 out of 5 enrolled foreigners (only one is German and an obvious foreigner, by the way), but all my class prep was done in English, and I didn't want to redo my syllabus and spend all the extra time to prepare lessons in Korean (did that last semester and it easily was double the prep time, maybe triple).

Thursday was the hardest day. I got a bus at 6:05 and made it to the campus in Seoul by 8, finding the classroom by 8:20 or so. The class started at 9, and there were 12 students there, only one with a 100% Korean name, although several had diasporic Korean names (like Eric Lee). A student (sounded American and looked Jewish) was a bit abrasive and challenging of a couple of the things I said-- he took a hard-lined (Korean) nationalist perspective (which is kind of funny since he's not Korean), and his attitude in class really threw me off. I am hoping (for once) that my first impression made him think he did not want to take the class, because an argumentative ultra-nationalist will be hard to deal with considering that I was trained by the opposite of the nationalist camp and hence will say things a nationalist might not like over and over all semester.

Now I better buckle down and work on prep!