Friday, May 17, 2013

DHU: the interview

My trip to Daegu Haany University (DHU) went well, I think. My contact Scott gave me a very thorough set of directions for how to reach the university; I found it with no problem. Gyeongsan turned out to be a city that lies somewhere between peppy Ansan and sleepy Yongin in terms of vibrancy. DHU, I discovered, was a rather hilly campus, and the edifice in which DHU's English Zone lies, the Science Information Building, is a gorgeous modern structure, bright and sleek (see above photo). The approach up the steps was a bit misleading, though: when I got off the bus, crossed the street, and went up the SIB's first set of steps, I thought I'd be entering a lobby. Wrong! That floor was, instead, devoted to a Cafe del Mar coffee shop, an eyewear store, at least one other student shop (books and stationery), and an area that looked as though it could have been either a cafeteria or some sort of activities room. The building's first floor was actually one floor up. Inside the coffee shop, a slim Western gent with graying hair sat at a perimeter table with his laptop—obviously a fellow introvert with his nose buried in cyberspace. Neither of us acknowledged the other.

Having taken the KTX, I had arrived early: around 3:30. After establishing myself in the coffee shop, I was given a Wi-Fi password by one of the baristas, and then I blogged my previous post. I also texted Scott and reassured him that I could keep myself entertained until 5PM, which was our appointed interview time. Around 4:40PM, I struck camp and went upstairs (having found a set of steps!) to DHU's English Zone. A large, glassed-in faculty lounge caught my eye; I went in and told the office girls I was there for a 5PM interview. They bade me wait, and it wasn't long after that that I made the acquaintance of Professor Y, a quiet, dignified, and slyly humorous Korean gentleman who, as it turned out, was one of my three interviewers. Professor Y had been to DC before, and had lived in New York. He agreed that DC was a puny city (a sentiment shared by my New Yawk friends, who can't take DC seriously as a real city at all), and he asked me a bit about myself.

Professor Y stepped out for a bit, and Scott himself came in a few minutes later; it was my first time meeting this longtime blog reader face to face. He shook my hand; we made some small talk while Professor K, a Korean lady who radiated kindness and intelligence, came in and introduced herself to me. I saw that she was carrying my résumé—a good sign that she had done her homework. (It's been disappointing to discover that other faculty at other universities don't bother to read my material carefully. Why ask us applicants to go through the pain of putting together a pile of paperwork if it's going to be left unread? Know your interviewee!) Professor Y came back in, and the interview began.

Professor Y caught me off-guard with a question about comparative religion: what similar points did I see between Christianity and Buddhism? I joked that I hadn't expected such a question in this interview, but thought a bit and then evoked the famous sunyata/kenosis discussion between Buddhist scholar Abe Masao and process theologian John Cobb. I don't know whether my answer earned me any points toward eventual employment at DHU, but as far as I was concerned, Professor Y's question was an excellent way to make me feel more at ease. I knew I probably looked puffy, flushed, and sweaty to my interlocutors, so anything that lowered the tension was good.

There were questions about how I'd handle unmotivated students; I didn't field those as deftly as I should have, but I did try to give answers that were as honest as possible. Some questions revolved around my Korean ability and the potential dangers (and benefits) of using the students' native language in the classroom. We discussed faculty size, average class size (15-25 students), certain aspects of the employment contract, and what would be required for the visa should I be hired. We talked about my willingness to live and work outside of Seoul. Scott expressed a worry that, because I had dealt with more advanced students while at Sookmyung Women's University, I might need to recalibrate my expectations for a generally less-advanced student population at DHU. I said, in all frankness, that I would most likely maintain high expectations for all my students, but that I would be willing to readjust those expectations if it became obvious that the students were truly of low level.

All in all, I had a positive feeling from the interview; the exchange felt comfortable, and I liked all three of my questioners immediately. Alas, Scott let slip that he knew me through my blog; Professor K asked for my blog's address, so now she's a potential reader. Since this blog often delves into the horrifyingly scatological, I have to wonder what Professor K will think. Will she vote against hiring me after reading a few blog posts? God only knows.

Scott wrote later in the evening to say the interviewers' impression of me had been "favorable." But I am, as Scott noted, only the first of several interviewees for this DHU position, so nothing is guaranteed. For all I know, DHU's knight in shining armor might be next in line.

I had taken the #100 bus from the train station to the university; DHU is that route's terminus. I took the same bus back into town. When I got on the bus, I asked the bus driver what the name of the bus stop close to Gyeongsan Station was.* He looked at me irritably and said, "'Gyeongsan Station'!" I felt I needed to justify my question, since the bus stop in question didn't sit directly in front of the station, being about a block away... but I decided not to hold up the line of impatient students behind me. Chastened, I squeezed myself into a seat and had a sweaty ride back to the train station.

At the station, I got another "combo" ticket: regular train to East Daegu Station, then the KTX back into Seoul. Both first-class and second-class seats were taken; the only available tickets were for the jayu-seok, i.e., the non-assigned seating, way, way at the ass-end of the train. Call it steerage. Non-assigned seating is exactly that: if there's a seat, grab it. If there's nothing, you're standing for two hours.

I stood for about 90 minutes in the very back of the KTX, sweating quietly and stuffed like cattle into the wide "anteroom" space between the train's outer doors, separated by a sliding door from the train's main interior, where all the seats were. My companions in this space were almost all twenty-something kids, faces buried in their smartphones. I periodically mopped my brow while I stared hard at the cattle-car floor, determined not to make any eye contact. After an hour of clacking along at 300 kilometers per hour, the train ground to a halt at its first stop, opening its doors, disgorging a load of passengers, and letting more passengers on. Relieved by the blast of fresh air and determined to change my situation, I slipped into the main cabin and placed my shoulder bag on a high shelf. Air conditioning! Thank you, Jesus. For about forty minutes, I enjoyed this new state of affairs and then, about twenty minutes before we were to arrive in Seoul, a seat opened up right in front of me. Betcher ass I grabbed that sucker. It was a nice, comfortable twenty minutes to Seoul, and now I can truly say that I've experienced both the very best and the very worst of riding on the KTX.

Feeling irrationally celebratory, I lumbered over to a third-floor restaurant in Seoul Station** called Bulgogi Brothers. Their doshirak display (doshirak is a bit like Japanese bento boxes) had caught my eye earlier in the day, and I had told myself that, if I got back to Seoul in time (Bulgogi Brothers closes at 10PM), I'd eat there. So eat there I did. Professor Y had noted the stereotype that Americans like Korean bibimbap, and that's precisely what I ordered. It wasn't cheap, but it was pretty damn good.

Replete from my meal, I lumber-waddled out to the Line 4 train and took it for the short ride back to the apartment.

A long, long day. But, I hope, a productive one.

*Korean buses play recorded announcements that tell the riders (1) what the name of the current stop is, and (2) what the name of the next stop is. Knowing the name of a stop gives the rider a chance to anticipate when to get off the bus. Anticipation is crucial in a crowded bus: if you lose time fighting your way through a crowd, you might not make it off before the door closes.

**Holy shit—Seoul Station also has a Cold Stone!



Elisson said...

Kevin, if they don't or can't appreciate your (occasional) shitblogging, they won't appreciate you. You are the very model of dualism: someone with his head in the sublime clouds of theological philosophy and with his feet planted firmly in the profanity of the dunghill.

Good luck!

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks, but I had hoped to be crowned Chief Nondualist, an incarnation of coincidentia oppositorum: he in whom the opposites find harmony.

Koreans actually have a yen for poop humor, although for them it tends to express itself in cutesy, cartoonish ways.