Friday, April 2, 2010


I am constantly looking for advice relating to how I should progress through this whole endeavor. How does one become a published author and respected professor at a prestigious university? How does one become a researcher and writer of a niche market of Korean history? How does one pay for the education that enables him or her to do what gives them purpose?

I still have a whole mess of questions but some of them are slowly being answered by current graduate students in the field. I still would 100% appreciate any and all feedback and points in the right direction. This is just a simple list I compiled after a few emails from current students and brief talks with seasoned veterans.

- Learn Hanja -
I seemingly behemoth task, this one might set me back a few steps. At the graduate level, it was recommended to me that a working knowledge of at least 200 basic 한자 is necessary just to stay afloat. When prompted by the question of how much did one study prior to entering master's classes, it understandably differed for each person. Those who studying the very basics were on the right track and received the proper guidance and motivation to continue. Those fluent in Chinese or Japanese were able to quickly adapt to Korean 한자 much quicker. Those who had never thought of Hanja prior to grad school were at a disadvantage but not at a total loss. I have yet to hear from anyone at the doctoral level, though. I imagine the proficiency needed is leaps and bounds above 200.

- Learn Korean -
An obvious suggestion but a valuable one. Not just survival Korean, mind you, but Korean language skills that allow a person to hold his or her own in an all Korean-language environment. If we're talking about Korean history, a working knowledge of at least the native Korean names of all important events, leaders and dates would be the minimum. My personal vocabulary is embarrassingly small but steadily growing. Unfortunately, I have yet to have a thorough conversation in Korean about Korean history outside of who I like best in 산국시대. I currently lack the necessary vocabulary to stay speaking in Korean instead of English. Really need to work on that.

- Read -
Thankfully, I'm on top of things here. I've accumulated a respectable book collection and actually have gotten around to reading most of them cover to cover. Books are good for that. Korea has been good to me in that I have found a whole truckload of books in English that I couldn't find back in the states, even on international websites like Amazon. In particular, I've read a decent amount regarding broad spectrum Korean history and Japan-Korea relations around the 1870s-1910. It seems that I need to branch out a bit more. My current goal is to read more about Japan and China. Which brings me to the next point:

- Read something else -
This is a self-imposing piece of advice. I know a fair share about the Joseon Dynasty (조선시대), some famous events from the Imjin Wars (임진왜란) and most of the events surrounding the Kapshin Coup of 1884 (갑신정변) but I know next to nothing about the Meiji Restoration (메이지 유신), the Chinese Cultural Revolution (문화대혁명) or the Nanking Massacre (남경대학살). That's kind of an issue seeing as how China and Japan's history is tightly connected to Korea. It isn't like not knowing about Iceleand's history. I need to man up and get acquainted with the two whales.

- Pick a focus -
Another self-imposed one, while I don't want to pigeon-hole myself into only knowing one aspect of Korea, I should still try to focus on something. I kind of have already, actually. I'm really interested in the forced annexation of Japan (일제시대) as well as the irresistibly fascinating life stories involving King Kojong (고종 광무제) the Taewongun (흥선대원군) and Queen Min (명성황후). However, finding a topic interesting is one thing but contributing to the field and picking a thesis is another.

- Write more -
I enjoy writing because it helps me to solidify what I recently read. I don't know a whole lot but when something vital is missing from such a source like Wikipedia, I feel compelled to write about it, if only a brief summary. Writing helps to organize my thoughts and gives me a chance to see if I actually learned anything.

- Connect -
I'm admittedly lacking in this department. At this point, I'm relatively isolated and need to branch out more. I'm in the right direction but still at the baby-steps stage. I'm a member of RASKB but have only attended two functions thus far and have yet to visit their extensive library. I'm also a member of the Association for Asian Studies but I don't participate other than reading the occasional Journal of Asian Studies. Lastly, I'm on the Korean Studies email list whose archive has provided me with some excellent answers from some of the greats in the field. I plan to connect more as a student so whatever I do before that is just gravy.

Open floor. Anything else? UPDATE: looks like I also need to pray for a job to be available.


Chris in South Korea said...

There's a lot more than just doing one thing or being one thing. I wish there were an easy way to become a 'respected' professor - but then again, if there were there would be far more of them. Part of what makes it such a tough thing to get is its difficulty. It's not unlike going after the ultra-muscular, body-building body that a handful of people are able to get.

Do more than the same thing as everyone else. Have a different angle. Best of luck :)

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