مرحبا عليكم!

I study languages.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


This is how I feel this week. 
I am currently composing/submitting:
  • one grant proposal (this week may make it two)
  • my honors thesis proposal
  • my honors thesis
  • four graduate school applications (soon to be more)
  • letter of recommendation requests to professors (some must be composed in Korean, which takes lots of time)
  • composition assignments for my Korean language class
and I feel very written out.
Note that five out of the six bullet points above involve personal/non-school-related work. Thus, I feel like I work and work and work all day and then when I am done I come home to my homework and to the feeling like I'm never actually getting anywhere.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013



It is the website for the Harvard-based endocrinology lab at Boston Children's Hospital at which I worked as a summer intern.


I am overjoyed to see *my name* listed on the same page as that of legitimate scholars/physicians/researchers! It makes me feel just the tiniest bit important, and gives me the tiniest bit of hope that I maybe-somehow-might get into graduate school.

My hair was really blonde.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013


I've been thinking a lot about what I WANT in life and whether or not those things are fair and/or achievable.
  • I want to go to graduate school.
  • I want to study linguistics, cognitive neuroscience, speech/hearing/audiology, East Asian languages, ancient Egypt, or some combination thereof.
  • I want to go to graduate school somewhere nice/good/attentive/talented, with nice/good/attentive/talented people to work with. I don't care where, but if I could choose I would choose Boston because I lived there for a while and I love Boston.
  • I don't want to go into crippling debt to pay for school.
  • I don't want to live in an atmosphere of impersonal, cutthroat competition--not because I can't compete, but because I guess I know there's more to life than being better than everybody else. I thrive on competition and always want to be my best (the best, even). What I don't like to do (a change; I used to enjoy this) is play the game, the terrible academic game that never ends and goes something like this: How many publications do you have? I don't care what it is you published; the number you say only matters in relation to how many publications I have. How many high-profile scholars know your name? How many scholarships did you get? How long is your resume? How important are you? Important enough to merit an audience with me? The trouble with this game is that it is inherently--necessarily--self-centered. There's no sincerity, and because every quantification is comparison-based, no real meaning. The game is semantics and the result sophistry. The program I want to join asks questions like What kind of person are you? How do you learn? Who have you helped? How did you help them? What brings you the strongest sense of fulfillment? Of the things you have created, which one makes you most proud? What are you creating now and what do you still need before it's finished? What do you want to create here and what do we have that will help you create it?
  • I want to teach. I love teaching.
  • I want to improve my Korean (한자, too!). I love Korean.
  • I want to read well in multiple languages. I love reading.
  • I want to write, to research and craft and present. I love writing.

I spend my free time on campus these days running in and out of professors' offices, trying to get a feel for just what exactly there is out there. I don't know these people, but I send emails and schedule appointments or just walk in and sit down and tell them about personal things like dreams and plans and I want to hear what they think and it doesn't scare me (thanks, mission). Right now I just want opinions. And I have already listened to so many. For the most part, I like talking to these people because it teaches me that there is a lot out there. Everybody convinces me a little bit and I always walk away conflicted, forgetting that the world is big and I am small, small but capable of at least some small thing, the intersection of infinite passion and a finite heart that yearns.

I talked to a prestigious professor today that told me to avoid anything Church-related when I make my applications, saying that one bad association with the LDS Church among your reviewers can send you to the bottom of the pile and that can be it. But hey. As an egalitarian, feminist, educated American, I don't know if I will let myself believe that's true. Do you really care what I believe? And if you do, would you allow yourself to be dictated by such prejudice to the point where you consciously discriminate against me? If as an employer I read that my potential employee had spent two years on the other side of the world, learning an impossible language in order to teach and serve in her church, I would admire her commitment, work ethic, and loyalty regardless of which religious branch she claimed. I guess I am projecting my attitude onto professors. But at this point, making my religion a part of my resume is not a matter of principle, it's a matter of honesty. I have a highly coveted Korean teaching job at the Missionary Training Center. I lived in Korea as a missionary for the past two years. There are gaping holes in my resume that would go unfilled if not caulked with my active religious participation. And why shouldn't I be honest? Follow your passion, do what you think will change the world regardless of what that is--just put your whole heart in and love it--that's every school's line. Right? 

Regardless. I have 한자 to translate and a 작문 to write.

Monday, September 9, 2013

너를 보낼게

I wait in the textbook line anxiously, receipt in hand, slowly inching up to the front for my turn. When it comes I hand the lady my book, A History of Ancient Egypt--my book, the one with the glossy cover, the one with the author who drones on and on, the one with the black-and-white pictures and the tiny serif text. Carelessly, she scans you through to re-credit my card and tosses you aside, asking for my ID. Unexpected guilt catches me off guard as you leave her hands, coming to rest somehow sad and alone on the stool by her desk. My book.

I'm so sorry, book. I adopted you, picked you out specially from a pile of similar texts, kept you safe until we got home. You rode in my backpack. I brought you to my house and thumbed through your pages like you were mine. I read part of Chapter One and penciled in little underlines just so I could remember you. But I have to be honest with myself. You are expensive and not all that interesting and I cannot afford to keep you. Even so, I hope someone else takes you home and loves you, that you end up on a bookshelf somewhere where children will hold you and finger your pages and smear the ink on the Temple of Hatshepsut, somewhere when your reader will catch sight of you from the shelf after a long month of work and blow the dust from your spine, disappearing for a second into tombs and texts and temples. I hope you're going to be all right.

[If I had more time I would write an adoption or abortion analogy, and you wouldn't find out I was talking about a book until the end. One day.]

Sunday, September 8, 2013


This week I read modern Korean short stories and ran into the very best one in any language I have ever read about women and education. Here's an excerpt from the assignment I wrote on "Kyonghui," said to be the first feminist short story in Korean literature.
"Kyonghui" (경희) by Na Hye-sok (나혜석), published in 1918, is a beautiful story about a nineteen-year-old girl from a traditional Korean home who, having traveled to Japan to be educated, is home for summer vacation. Women from all over come to scold her and criticize her choice to go away to learn rather than accept a marriage proposal, but upon meeting her are impressed with her confidence, character, and, surprisingly, her increased aptitude for traditional women’s work. Kyonghui shows a deep, happy interest in even the most menial chores: she doesn’t see laundry, she sees chemistry. The story culminates in a cathartic self-examination scene, impressively written, where Kyonghui, having just rejected a once-in-a-lifetime marriage offer, philosophically analyzes her choice and emerges spiritually reborn, having realized what it really means to be a person.

Remember, this is 1918 in Korea (then extremely sexist, now residually so). Kyonghui's conclusion is still resonant:

“First of all I am a human being. Then I am a woman. This means that I am a human being before being a woman. Moreover, I am a woman who belongs to the universal human race before being a Korean woman. I am God’s daughter before being the daughter of Yi Ch’orwon and Lady Kim. After all, I was born with a human form. This form, which includes not only the outer skin but also the internal organs, is definitely human, not animal. Without a doubt, I am a human being! If I, as a human being, don’t choose untraveled, rough roads, how can I ever ask that of others? Human beings are expected to achieve high goals and be proud of them, as if they were standing on a mountaintop and looking down below. . . .Dear God, here is your daughter! Father, thank you for your grace! Please look at my face, glowing with life. Dear God, please give me eternal glory and strength. I pledge to do my best. Please make use of me. I’m at your disposal, for you have the power to either reward or punish me.”

[Reproduced in a collection called Questioning Minds: Short Stories by Modern Korean Women Writers (translator: Kim Yung-Hee, 김영희)]

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

That time.

It's that time again. Hopefully for the last time. :)

Only two classes to review today, but can I just mention how unexpectedly exhausting it is to work three-and-a-half hours in Korean, on my feet, after a full day at school? I love, love, love being an MTC teacher and I wouldn't trade it for the world (seriously), but it does require just about every ounce of energy, focus, and self-control I have, so I crashed pretty hard after driving home at 5 today. And TTh are my "easy" days...

ANES 238: History of the Ancient Near East to 330 BC. I had to get up early and beg the professor to hear me out, as I have a conflicting class that precludes me from being able to attend the first half hour of every period, but he seems relatively reasonable, so hopefully we'll work something out. Lots of dry readings, but interesting lectures, and seeing transcriptions of Arabic place names is rekindling my love for that language. I'm starting to miss it and might audit a section!

KOR 302: Third Year Korean, Part 2. The course was listed under a professor I know and like, so to walk in and see a visiting faculty member having picked up the class was a bit of a disappointment. I like my original teacher because she understands RMs' advanced language capabilities, and our exchange professor, though very sweet, talks at the slowest speed of all time and still asks, "Can you understand? Should I speak more slowly?" If she doesn't speed up, I'll kill myself. It doesn't look to be a particularly difficult class, which is good for my schedule, but to be honest, kind of disappoints me. I'm one of only three girls in there, though, which is kind of cool.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Figs again.

It's the last Sunday before school starts, and scanning through prereleased syllabi is already making me overwhelmed. The first few days of school always scare me to death; I hear all the deadlines, test dates, rules, and consequences all at once and forget that I can do this, that I've done this, that I know how. And with grad school applications opening soon, this semester may not even technically count on my transcript.

If I'm completely honest, I want admission to graduate school more than I want anything else in the world. 
I need to graduate, to get out and move on, but to be honest, though, I fail to see myself even getting into a decent program. My transcript is all over the place: years--years!--of molecular biology, Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Arabic, Hebrew, Korean, chemistry, microbiology, linguistics--! The only thing consistent is my GPA. And what does such a perfectionistic number say about me? That I can do everything but can't commit to anything? Am I really qualified to do anything at all?

I am so scared to apply. I am scared that they will see potential in me, but not direction. And I am scared that they might be right. It calls to mind the fig tree, the haunting image from Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar that I've never been able to forget:

"I felt dreadfully inadequate. The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn't thought about it. The one thing I was good at was winning scholarships and prizes, and that era was coming to an end.

I felt like a racehorse in a world without racetracks or a champion college footballer suddenly confronted by Wall Street and a business suit, his days of glory shrunk to a little gold cup on his mantel with a date engraved on it like the date on a tombstone.

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig in the story.

From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these were many more figs I couldn't quite make out.

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which one of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet."

Sylvia Plath,
The Bell Jar