Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Today, Wednesday, August 21, was orientation day for us new CUD proles. The meeting was supposed to begin at 10:30AM, but since Koreans are perpetually on Italian time, we moved from the library's Room 501 (which had no A/C; those of us who had arrived early were sweating horribly) down to the basement level and began promptly at 11AM. Before we went downstairs, I had the chance to meet up, once again, with Mark from the day before, and with an acquaintance of Mark's named Daniel (again, not his real name; in fact, let's just assume that I'll be using pseudonyms from here on in)—a QuĂ©becois-Irish-Italian guy who speaks marvelously fluent French (he taught at the Sorbonne for two-and-a-half years). Like me and Mark, Daniel was soaked in sweat from the nasty Daegu-area heat. We Westerners all looked miserable, and I resolved, then and there, to come to work an hour early every day to give myself some cool-down time as well as time to change clothes.

Quite an assortment of hires, I must say: most of my new colleagues have lived in Korea longer than I have (nine or ten years, as opposed to my eight), although I didn't get the feeling that many of them could actually speak Korean. (As is often the case, the Korean-handicapped guys have Korean girlfriends who do everything for their men—a topic worthy of its own post/rant sometime.) There were a few CUD veterans in attendance as well; some were our "team leaders" (we had been divided into groups, you see), while others were at orientation because they were still relatively new, i.e., second-semester profs. The room was filled mostly with guys, which I found bizarre; only two or three foreign women had been hired. I sat next to two nice Canadian women who also happened to live in my building.

The orientation itself was fairly straightforward; D, whom I'd met the other day, led most of the orientation after our director, Dr. Y, had given a sprightly introduction. D's presentation was via PowerPoint; he covered aspects of teaching at CUA that we would need to be mindful of, such as how to take attendance, how to enter grades, how to get students oriented with the online learning component of our conversation classes, how to write a generic syllabus (I had certain disagreements with the grade distribution, but the distribution is department policy, as are the testing formats for both the midterm, listening, and final exams), etc. Most of the advice we got was common sense: use your colleagues as resources, keep clear records, make sure the students understand your grading, behavior, and attendance policies, minimize student complaints by being thorough in your prep. All stuff I'd heard before.

We drove out in separate cars to an in-town Korean restaurant that Dr. Y had reserved for us; lunch was good, if a bit cold. One of my colleagues, an Englishman, struck me because he looked exactly like Bear Grylls. I told him so; he said that was the first time he'd been compared to Bear Grylls; normally, according to him, people say he looks like Scott Bakula.

I wasn't particularly talkative, as is my wont in group situations. Finally, 1:20PM rolled around, and I stood up. As I tried to usher myself out of lunch to go home and rest from all the damn heat, the Korean staffers asked me where I was going. "Home," I said. "No—you have to come to the office!" "Why?" I asked, annoyed. "You have to make ID!" I had no clue what the girls were talking about, but I shrugged and resigned myself to a sweaty trudge back to campus, about a twenty-minute walk away. Mark, my Canuck building-mate, accompanied me part of the way, then headed along the back streets to our neighborhood. He, apparently, didn't need to "make ID" that day.

Dripping, soaked, I continued on to St. Thomas Aquinas Hall, thinking about how fat the famed saint was reputed to have been. He supposedly had to have a specially made desk or table—one with a semicircle gouged out to allow for his enormous girth. How apropos, I thought, blinking away droplets of sweat and wiping uselessly at my brow with a handkerchief already saturated with perspiration. The fat prof goes to Aquinas Hall. I once again wondered what life would be like were I half my size and weight.

As I mentioned before, my office is on the fourth floor of Aquinas Hall. I clumped up the stairs to Room 400, the staff room. Opening the door, I saw the room was already full of my fellow expat profs, who were busy collecting their textbooks and office keys, and "making ID," which I discovered meant creating usernames and passwords for us to be able to log in to the university's email and intranet system. I guessed that my colleagues had ridden back in the same cars that had driven them to the restaurant. Lucky bastards.

"Making ID" meant talking to Frieda, and Frieda insisted on speaking English, a language she had only begun to master. I did my best to try to decipher her pidgin attempts at communication—mangled sentence fragments and Yoda-like syntax. Eventually, she resorted to Korean when it was obvious that we had hit a discursive wall, and that no further English communication was possible. Somehow, a username and password and email account were hammered out, and I was that much further woven into the CUD network.

Daniel was there; we spoke in French for a bit before he had to leave. I asked the girls whether there was anything more I needed to do; they asked me, in turn, whether I had received my office key and my pile of textbooks; I said that I had, so they told me we were done for the day. Still sweaty, I marched home, thankful that the walk home was entirely downhill. In my mind, it's already late October, and the walk to class is so much more pleasant in the cool fall air.

Once in my studio, I again peeled off my vĂȘtements humides and cranked up the washing machine. God, I'm so thankful I have a washing machine, and that I don't have to pay a water bill: I've been using that poor device almost daily since I arrived in Hayang.

I now have until Monday to create my syllabi, of which I need create only two. Meanwhile, I've got more shopping to do. With my final direct deposit from YB coming this Friday, I'll have a few hundred extra dollars to throw around, and then I have to hold my breath until CUD pays me on September 15... at which point I'll send $1000 to my US bank account, and breathe easier for the first time in years.

The word "orient" means "east." To orient oneself originally meant to use the rising sun as a compass point for navigational purposes. A disoriented person literally couldn't figure out which way the east was. Today, I think, was constructive: as a new member of a burgeoning university community, I was happy to be shown where, procedurally and academically speaking, my east is. And I look forward to working with what promises to be a very interesting cast of characters.



Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Over 30 years since Said's magnum opus, and you're still saying "orientation"?!

Jeffery Hodges

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Kevin Kim said...

Don't get me started on Edward Said. I share Bernard Lewis's opinion of the man.

John from Daejeon said...

Don't lump all Westerners together in regards to the wonderful summer weather here. Coming from an area equally humid, and much, much hotter than here, summer is my favorite time of the year here as it doesn't feel too hot nor too cool on my deep South Texas, sun-seared skin. Winter here, on the other hand, is what I'd label truly brutal. It blows my students' minds when I tell them in my 40 years of existence on this planet, I can count the number of times on one hand that the mercury has dipped below the freezing point in my home town. And that prior to the freak 1/2 inch snowstorm of 2004 (one of the 4 times it froze), the previous recorded snowfall was back in the Great Blizzard of 1888 when an inch fell. However, they do get a kick at how thoroughly I over-bundle up once the mercury starts dropping in the fall.

Sadly, it is really a shame that many of my cold-blooded friends that I ride with, and even my Korean boss, park their bicycles from the end of May until the middle of September when this country is actually at its most beautiful as this is the time that many fruits and vegetables are ripening and are at the peak of their flavor out a midst the countryside.

Anyway, I am sorry to read about your school's forced grading policy. Handing out grades that students didn't earn on their own is something I simply can't stomach or abide by. It is also the primary reason I don't do well in that environment. It definitely doesn't help that many of today's university level students are much more vocal, persistent, and in-your-face when it comes to demanding much higher grades than they actually earned, especially behind the shield of their computer or smartphone.

Kevin Kim said...

Regarding Westerners: I gotta go with the evidence of my senses, John. Not a single Western dude I saw today was perspiration-free: we were all sweaty, sweaty beasts. It was sad and embarrassing.

One white guy did pipe up, however, to say that we yang-nom shouldn't complain: this guy had spent the last few years in China, where the heat and humidity were truly bad. According to him, anyway.

John McCrarey said...

"One of my colleagues, an Englishman, struck me because he looked exactly like Bear Grylls."

That is the worst reason I've ever heard for hitting someone. Bastard!

Anyway, since you were essentially going in blind at CUD it seems like you've lucked into a great situation overall. Nice campus, nice coworkers. And pretty Ms. Kang.