After a month, I've settled in at Sejong University. My office is pretty much set up; it's big but barren. In fact, Ursula and I might paint it to make it feel a little fresher. As it turns out, I'm only teaching 2 classes this semester. One is an Introduction to Political Thought on Monday evenings from 6 to 9. There are 20 international graduate students from the Asian Studies program, coming from South Africa and Camaroon, Afghanistan and Mongolia (both work at their respective embassies here), Uzbekistan and Kazakstan, Iraq, even one guy from Canada, and elsewhere. It's like our own mini UN session.
My second class is part of the General Studies program for all undergraduates. Fifteen of the 24 students are international and the rest are Korean. Once again, they come from all over. This class is a lot of fun. It's a (very) General Introduction to Politics and Government. We meet on Tue and Thu from 1:30 to 3:00. It's interesting to talk about democracy when you have students from Russia and China and Vietnam in the class.
Beyond teaching, I expect to be busy in two other areas in the coming months (now that I've found my feet in the classroom): helping to increase the number of both exchange and tuition-paying foreign students at Sejong; and producing academic research for publication. In terms of foreign students, hopefully I'll be able to make suggestions to improve the appeal of Sejong's programs to foreigners, and find some new partnerships for Sejong with Canadian and American universities. I've already spoken to the Dean of Social Sciences and he is interested in my input.
In terms of research, I think my niche will be in a comparative approach between Canadian and Korean issues. This might sound like a stretch, but I see one area where there is a very logical connection, and it appears no research has been done. Basically, I'd like to investigate the enormous socialization challenges faced by North Korean defectors now living in South Korea, and compare those with the (eerily similar) challenges facing Canadian aboriginal people who try to survive and succeed in mainstream Canadian society. My working title is "Strangers in Their Own Land". Given that this process has been going on longer in Canada than Korea, I'm hoping to be able to identify ideas or programs that have worked (or not worked) in Canada to see whether they might be of value in Korea. Based on what I know now, I see many opportunities for investigation.
To be more specific, it's well known that both the Canadian aboriginal and North Korean defector communities have struggled to develop leadership capacity from within their own ranks. Having said that, after several decades of focussed effort in Canada, there is now a well-educated group of aboriginal leaders capable of articulating the concerns and needs of their communities. In Korea, this process has just begun in the defector community, so maybe there is something Korea could learn and apply from the Canadian experience. As the former Chair of Canada's Parliamentary Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, and co-founder of Toronto-based Han Voice's Pioneer Project (that brings young North Korean defectors to Canada to gain leadership skills), I probably know as much as anybody about where these two challenges intersect.
On the administrative side of life, I'm now registered as a legal "alien" in Korea so I've been able to open a bank account and get a long-term cell phone contract (very important because there is so much smartphone-based commerce here). More importantly, I got paid for the first time this week! While I've expected this whole financial plan of mine to work since I dreamt it up two years ago, it's nice to see some new money in the bank (before we ran out of old money).
Beyond work stuff, progress on building a social network for our family remains slow. We've met some people at church and in our neighbourhood (mostly other foreign professors and graduate students and their families). The kids also began tae-kwon-do lessons this week. Ironically, one of the challenges we face is finding activities for us and the kids close to our home, as this is a very large city. The subway system (second largest in the world after NYC) is great, but it still takes an hour or more to get to many places. As such, we're trying not to get involved with things that will require massive commutes. Ursula and I also realize that success in other areas of our lives won't mean much if we all aren't happy living here for 2 years. As such, this is now our top priority.
Anyway, that's it for now. I think George and I are going to buy a couple of used bikes for the family today. There are great trails to explore along the rivers here, but when I'm running my range is only about 10-13 km, and the rest of the family can't come with me. We've looked at some really nice new road bikes, but I'm not sure we should invest that much money until we're sure we will make good use of them. If we buy used, and we discover we love cycling, we can sell the used ones for what we paid for them and get some new bikes in a few months. The adventures continue...