So what’s the deal with Korea? you might ask. When I last left the topic off, I was planning to come to college and talk with someone Korean about the idea of coming over to teach English. I suppose I still haven’t talked to anyone Korean about it, but I have talked to a couple people who went to teach there. What I found out was that going to Korea isn’t as unequivocally awesome in every way as I was led to believe by my initial research—but that doesn’t mean it’s terrible.
I guess any country would have a hard time living up to the rosy picture of Korea that I got from some of the recruiting websites. Their Korea is a place where you never even have to learn Korean, because there’s always an English-speaker nearby; where you’ll be participating in all the things Koreans have been doing over the several millennia of their history; where you’ll come off of a light day of teaching pleasant, eager kids with plenty of time to go hike one of the country’s many mountains. But now I’ve spoken with a guy—B.—who went there for two years, and he says it’s a little different. For one thing, it’s a country that can make you feel isolated pretty effectively. It’s tough to make Korean friends without actually speaking Korean, so most people will end up having to hang around with other English teachers for their companionship. The problem with that is not only that you then become detached from the culture of the country, but also that the foreigners there are often not nearly as cool as the people from this college, in B.’s opinion. For example, instead of deeply interesting, weighty topics of conversation, they tend to talk about how Koreans look funny but the women are totally hot. Of course, that can’t be true for all of the foreigners, but it’s true that once I graduate, I’m going to have to get used to the fact that friendships aren’t just amazingly easy to come by like they are here in college. That’s a huge thing that I’m going to miss once I graduate. But I guess I’ll have to deal with that whether I go to Korea or stay here. Unless I move to someplace that’s totally full of hippies, like Eugene or Portland or an intentional community somewhere.
Another thing is that Korea, B. says, “is a monoculture.” Everyone is the same, because that’s the way their culture works. The nice part is that I won’t be expected to live up to that sameness, because I’ll already be weird by virtue of not being Korean, but I’d still like to have lots of interesting, diverse people to talk with and spend time with. Something else that seems to be a lot of foreigners’ impression is that Korea has a surface layer of culture where everything is bars and hard work and the hustle and bustle of city life—and then there’s no deeper layer. In New York, there were freegans and anarchists and people of every possible persuasion to talk to. In Korea, apparently, I can expect few people to be really strange, and that’s a terrible loss, because strangeness is basically the same thing as interestingness.
But I was talking with Ethan the other day, and we concluded that there has to be some amount of counterculture in Korea, somewhere. B. confirmed this hunch, to an extent. And he told me some other advice that I needed to hear, which is this: if I’m thinking of going, I’m not going to get an idea of what it’s like by reading stuff about it on a message board that’s frequented by disgruntled English teachers who are annoyed about Korea, or even by some mythical unbiased message board or other source. I just have to go there, and make it my own. And that’s something I’d been thinking would probably end up being true all through my process of considering Korea. If nothing else, my boredom there will give me lots of time to look for the best way to make some money once I get back to pay off my student loans, and to design my fonts, and to write a book: a year of seclusion. But I suspect it won’t amount to that. I’m pretty good at languages, so hopefully I’ll be able to make some Korean friends who are interesting people. And I’ll aim to seek out whoever are the least “Damn, she’s a hot Asian” foreigners to hang around with. And if I can muster the will, I’ll teach English through the strategy of actually caring about it.
So how is it being back? I love it. I wish I had a few more years to look forward to here. Recently I’ve been coming to the conclusion that I definitely should have taken a gap year after I finished Secondary Compound. I didn’t know at the time what would have been good things to do, but if I had known then what I know now, I would have gotten a deferment and gone WWOOFing and done some volunteering and hiked the Appalachian Trail and maybe even applied for something like AmeriCorps. When I graduated high school I had no idea who I was. I remember feeling like that, actually, although I never put it into so many words, because I wanted to feel like I was sure of myself. But I arrived in college having no idea what I wanted to major in. “English, maybe?” I would tell everyone. That’s probably how I ended up in anthropology. If I had given it a year of thought, I might have thought of something that I really wanted to study. Recently I’m thinking that biology would have made me feel great. I’m finally taking my first lab science here, not counting calculus. It’s intro to bio, and I’m enjoying it tremendously. But I guess all of that is water under the bridge, or maybe it’s neither here nor there. It makes me think, though, that my Year of Adventure after I get back from Korea will probably be good for me in more ways than I now imagine. I’m becoming yet more determined to make it happen.
EcoHouse is all kinds of fun this year. For one thing, I’m the only guy in it, among eight girls. So I get to hear all the gossip that happens in groups of girls when guys are a minimal intrusion. I guess they consider me harmless. Another thing is that we all love this place, and we get together and bake things all the time.
My classes are kind of a random mishmash, although not as badly as they were before I managed to transfer into biology. My MAP is going well, if perhaps a little behind schedule. I’m working on the literature review now, and it’s giving me a chance to learn lots of stuff about linguistics that I never learned because of the diffuseness of the linguistics program here. We never get a thorough grounding in the major components of linguistics: morphology/syntax, phonology, and semantics. I’ve just picked up a textbook on morphology and been reading the entire thing, thinking sometimes, “Ah, here’s what I’ve been missing!” I’m nowhere near being able to write a grammar of an undocumented language, but I’m becoming much better at languages nonetheless. Another way I’ve learned stuff about languages was through the talks that resulted from the college’s decision to hire a linguist next year. (Another reason I should’ve taken a gap year: I’ll never be able to take a class with this linguist. But I couldn’t have predicted that one, obviously.) The college brought in four candidates, and each one gave a talk on something they’d been studying, to show their teaching skills and such. I learned something at each one of them. I wish I knew everything about linguistics, but I guess for now I’ll have to be satisfied with just a lot of things. Perhaps someday I’ll go to grad school, but I can’t do it straightaway, I just can’t. Even were it not for the money matters, I want to go out and experience the world. Also, those four candidates for the linguistics professorship here? They were drawn from a pool of 150. If I got a graduate degree in linguistics I have no idea what I would do with it. I could teach linguistics, and that’s about all I could see. It’s true, I guess, that that would give me an opportunity to do some cool research. Doing this MAP has made me appreciate how gratifying it can actually be to do new research into something no one has studied before, and linguistics is still a really wide-open field, what with so many endangered languages needing to be described and, if possible, rejuvenated, and so much analysis that needs to be done of those languages and even of the languages we know tons of stuff about. Languages are essentially mysterious in a whole lot of ways. But, despite how awesome it could be to do research, I just don’t believe I could really handle doing it as a career, tied to a professorship and a whole bunch of deadlines and guidelines and requirements. I need to live my life a little more freeform than that. I can still write things about language if I feel like it. Not being a professor and not having any graduate degree in linguistics that I’m aware of didn’t stop Bill Bryson from writing two or three books on language. (That said, those books contained lots of mistakes, but still.) It’s just that instead of filling my otherwise inactive time with grading papers, I’ll be, say, fishing, or gathering a bushel of wild parsnips. That’s how things look to me from here. But after a year in Korea and a year on the road, who really knows?
All right. For those of you who are wondering: the building-free diet is going great. I’ve only bought food from a building twice: once at Bob’s I bought a few M&Ms on my ice cream for a quarter so I could enter a raffle that I never won, and the other time, I had to cook EcoHouse’s weekly house meal and I was too busy that week to dig up enough dumpster stuff to cook the meal for them, so I bought some chickpeas from the store to make falafel (also bought pitas). But the onions and peppers that I stir-fried for eating with the falafels—straight out of the trash. Here are some of the things I’ve found: Six frozen pizzas; three sacks of potatoes; innumerable bags of lettuce or other green leafy salady things; lots of bread; onions; green peppers; artichokes (they went bad before I figured out how to cook them); broccoli; pastries; prepared sandwiches and wraps; pork chops. (Grandma: send me your recipe for those pork chops with cream of mushroom soup. I know where a free can of it is, so I’ve got to make those.) I’ve also been eating at Vegan Co-op, which is a traveling meal cooked by different people in a different house each night, the one consistent thing being that it’s always vegan. (But there are very few actual vegans who come. Most are vegetarian or meat-eating.) I’m even cooking one night a week for it, though I have yet to actually do that, because of various complications.
It’s getting really late, so the last thing I’m going to write about is the job that I may be doing for some money on the side: online eikaiwa. That’s Japanese: ei = English; kai = together/meeting; wa = talking. So I’ll be tutoring Japanese people who are learning English, by Skype. It’s a pretty cool thing that I heard about from a professor. I don’t know much yet about what it’ll be like and whether I’ll be able to get an appreciable number of hours from it, but I do know that it pays $12 an hour, which is not shabby at all. So I guess (whenever the Japanese person can’t think of how to say something in English) I’ll have the opportunity to hone the Japanese skills that I’ve let rust for a little over a year now.
I could just keep on writing forever, but it’s getting pretty tired in here.