One of very important reasons to stay being a student and to work in academia is the long summer (and winter) vacation. It is not really a ‘vacation’ since we usually have lots of work, but we have a chance to become a total vagabond for three months every year.
I fully enjoyed my summer 2008. First I participated in a graduate conference at UCLA on China studies, where I presented my paper on colonial education in Taiwan. I flew to Taiwan, helped Michi to settle in, ate a lot of xiaolongbao and my favorite food there. I am still in love with Taiwan, and I always want my friends to enjoy their stays in Taiwan, too. I am very glad to hear that Michi has also developed a personal attachment to this amazing island over the summer. I also flew back to Japan to visit my parents in Takarazuka, and also made a weekend trip to Tokyo to see a number of friends who had just got married, had a baby etc.
My main goal this summer was to improve my Korean to the extent to which I can manage academic discussions with Korean professors. Last two summers, I attended university affiliated language courses (at Seoul National and Yonsei), which was probably a good idea since I was still studying very basic grammar and expressions. This time, however, trusting my ability to motivate myself to study hard without any group pressure, I decided to work with a personal tutor, make language exchange friends, and read academic materials by myself, instead of going to one of these language programs.
I have to say, this was a brilliant idea. My teacher, Bong sonsengnim, was a very experienced professional instructor and linguist. She is fluent in Japanese, and has lived in Japan and the US so she knew common traps for Japanese and English speakers. I studied intensively with her, and ended up doing a lot of writing exercises. I did not intend to emphasize writing ability but it helped me (and my teacher) a lot in learning subtle differences between expressions and mistakes that I tend to make frequently, and in internalizing new vocabulary.
I also did language exchange with four students at Yonsei University. Sookyeong is starting her phd at Cornell this fall. We were supposed to do language exchange between English and Korean, but it soon turned into discussions in whatever language we feel like using, since she also got the same combination of languages that I have. We share lots of similar interests and ideas on approach to history and academia, and I could not help but get excited every time I see her, imagining us collaborating together on publications and conference panels in the future. Sookyeong introduced me two of her friends, Hongsuk and Mihyeon. Both of them are studying modern Korean history. We strictly stuck to an hour-based Korean-Japanese language exchange style (unlike with Sookyeong). We mostly discussed academic subjects or academic life in Korea. The other language exchange friend was Yelee, whom my teacher introduced to me. She studies historical linguistics and will go study in Japan soon. She is doing comparative research on changes in Japanese and in Korean during modernization (if I understood correctly), which sounded very interesting to me. I learned a lot from my language exchange friends, and thanks to them I grew significantly more attached to Seoul this summer. Another good thing about academia is that, since it is reasonably a small world, I am sure that we will meet each other again, and can help each other from wherever we are.
I read quite a bit in Korean, too. I collected a number of dissertations and master’s theses related to my topic at the National Library, and Sookyeong introduced me major works in Korea that I should know of. It is always hard to stop myself from buying more than I could read the next year or so at bookstores in Asia.
I spent the last 10 days of my vacation in Bali, Indonesia. Colm was in Yogyakarta studying the language for the whole summer, so we decided to gather in Bali. Bali is full of European people, and I assume it does not look like the rest of the country at all. Putting aside many sociological questions that occurred to me about westernization of one part of the country, it was simply a relaxing vacation for both of us. We traveled to Ubud, Mt. Batur, and Gili Trawangan. We could see one small part of extremely diverse natural environments in Indonesia when we did sunrise trekking to Mt. Batur. Gili islands are tiny islands (north of Lombok), and have beautiful beaches where we just relaxed and snorkeled. One guy was setting up a tent on the beach. It is actually a great idea to bring your own tent and stay there on Gilis and use shower and bathrooms at some of the diver’s cafes. We were also stunned by the beautiful view of mountainous Lombok Island (next to Bali). Maybe we will explore Lombok next time…! Mental note: Bring more cash to Gili islands since things are more expensive and there is no ATM on the islands. I uploaded some pictures here.