This moment will never come back

It has been three and a half months since we finally moved to Guatemala. There were days I was happy and grateful for this new experience but quite frankly, most other days, I’ve felt depressed and lonely. I have been an off-campus student for almost a year and a half now. It was already tough being a few states away from my academic community when I was in California, but I was still lucky enough to find a friend who was in a very similar situation with mine. We both were juggling multiple identities as grad students, academic writers, and newlywed spouses who chose to move away from our school community to be with our partner. It was hard but it was less hard thanks to our friendship because we understood the struggles and at least, we were not alone.

Having an international, as opposed to interstate, long distance relationship with your school presents a whole different level of challenges. Here, it is so hard to find other like-minded writers, scholars, or grad students. And looking at my husband being so busy with work, I felt almost jealous. I wanted to work with people who understand what I do, I wanted to be busy with work that I care about and I wanted to bitch about the things and the people that make me busy but also make me feel that I am making some sort of difference in the world. I’ve felt so lonely, isolated and depressed. Being far away from your community is hard because it essentially means that you are away from the people that know who you are–those who you don’t have to explain yourself all the time. I felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore.

But I guess every cloud does have a silver lining. I found a publication opportunity for a special issue of a journal that I have been eyeing for a while. Well, I still need to revise a draft, submit it for review, and wait for a long time, but it’s an opportunity that I can jump right in, right now: I have a draft, and I have time. I have so much time to write and write more. And the realization dawned on me–I will probably never and ever have this much time to write. Once I go back to the US, I’ll probably start working, probably and hopefully I’ll have a lot more opportunities to meet people and socialize with them. Also, not anytime soon, but one day, we might start a family. So, now is a chance for me to focus on my research and hone in on my writing skills. This is the chance that is really not likely to come back again soon. At least, not soon enough. So I really can’t afford to waste this time moping over what I don’t have, or what I am missing out. Instead, I should do what I can do. I should really cherish this moment because this moment will never come back.

Again, being away from your community, and your work is hard. What exactly are you without them? But if you really think about it, what makes you who you are is not the people that you are around with, but rather, it’s what you do day in, day out. Regardless of where you are, or who you are with. So, I’ve made a decision. Instead of being depressed, I choose to enjoy this moment. The moment that I can fully devote myself to what I love and care about, and thus makes me who I am.

The day I became an American

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Today was the day I became an American. The day one might expect it to be very memorable and special. It was, in fact, a special day in that we had to go through a long haul of driving 2 hours each way, waited for an hour for an interview, then waited again for three hours for the oath ceremony and finally received the naturalization certificate. Well, not so fast, we had to wait for an extra hour to fix my name they screwed up on my certificate. So overall, it was a long day.

I think I had been waiting for this day for all my life. Probably ever since I first learned about the US–well, back then I called it ‘America’ because I wasn’t aware of the existence of Central and South America. I remember when I was still in elementary school, I was asking my mom to send me to America once I go to middle school. And once I was in middle school, I asked my mom to send me to America once I go to high school, which actually didn’t happen until I got into college.

America was this exciting place in my young and hopeful heart. The place with full of dreams and promises. The place that I could be whatever I wanted to be. America was, to me, some sort of utopia that was too wonderful for me to exist in, even when I was living there. Oddly and sadly, in a way, it still feels like it is.

Once I decided to become a US citizen, I knew I would always feel different, and my experience and upbringing would always remind me that I am different. My English would never be good enough, and I would never fully grasp all those cultural references that I didn’t grow up with like Dr. Seuss, the Karate kid, the Breakfast Club, and more. And most likely, I would never understand, much less watch, the super bowl.

Then I thought, what do these all mean? Do these mean that I can never belong here? Should I willingly and gratefully take my place as a second class citizen, inferior to those typical middle-class white Americans who are citizens by birth, were born and raised in typical  American households, have been educated in American school system, and speak English as their first (and most likely only) language?  And, thus, try my best to take as little space as possible in this country? (I’m pretty good at this; growing up in Korea I was socialized to become a master of taking up as little space as possible so I wouldn’t get in the way of other boys.)

Before answering these questions, I want to rewind and playback this important and special day. So first, after driving 2 hours to arrive on time in the USCIS for my citizenship interview, we went to a Dunkin Donuts to grab something to eat for breakfast. There, a Korean lady (I knew she was Korean because she spoke Korean to her coworker) at the cash register smiled at me as I was waiting for my husband to pay for the donuts and coffee. If you are Korean, you probably know that smile. The kind of smile that Korean ajummas make to you. The smile that almost sounds like “I don’t know if you speak Korean but I know you are Korean. I have a daughter/son of your age.”

Once we arrived in the USCIS, and waited for a long hour, an immigration officer who was in charge of my case finally came out to take me to his office. His last name was Nguyen and he spoke with a cadence that reflects his first language. At the waiting area, I saw at least 30 other people collecting their oath ceremony notification, all with the names that gave a little bit of a hard time to another immigration officer to call out. Still, she tried, and asked each one how to pronounce their name. She was a nice lady.

After I finally received my naturalization certificate, my husband and I went to this Korean-Mexican fusion restaurant to get late lunch and, of course, Korean ajummas with that familiar smile were there to greet us. I ordered our food in Korean and we had our bibimbap burrito. While we were eating, a few other customers came in. At times, the Korean ladies had a hard time to understand their order and apologized for their English, but in the end, all the customers got the famous KFC-Korean Fried Chicken– without any problem.

So looking back, the day I became an American, or more accurately a US citizen, was not much different with other days–full of ‘different’ people, with ‘different accents’ and ‘different’ food. And I know this is exactly why I wanted to come here, and become one of them. Then going back to my question, what do these all mean? I think it means I belong here, precisely because I am different. And it is my responsibility to take full participation and full ownership of this society so that more ‘different’ people can feel they belong here too. And that will be my way to show allegiance to my newly adopted country.

Done with the Spanish course and back on the road

We are finally done with the Spanish course and now back on the road again. A cross-country road trip from CA to GA. And the first stop in LA, CA. The past week had been non-stop with packing, cleaning, and just preparing for leaving, and once we arrived in LA, we still couldn’t really rest catching up with old friends and family in town. Finally, I found an alone time to sit down and write.

First of all, I feel great about the completion of Spanish course. It was one tough course with 6-7 hours of class every day, and 2-3 hours of homework every night. I went to high school in Korea, and I’m telling you, a Korean high school is no joke. So I thought I got this. But after all, I graduated from high school more than 10 years ago. The course was really tough, well, not really the course itself, but the part that I had to wake up early, and follow a very rigid schedule someone else made for me. I was thinking about dropping out so many times because my allergy was aggravated so badly and I felt falling behind, after my school, UMass where I am doing my PhD., started the Fall semester. But I thought about dropping out, really mainly because I could. I could drop out of the course if I wanted to. Really there would be no ramifications except maybe feeling like a loser, but even then, who cares? But the truth is, I cared. I cared about how my classmates and the teachers would think. I cared about how my future self would think about the weak and lazy past self. So I persisted. And in the end, I’m glad I did, well, although I’m still struggling with the deteriorated condition of my allergy.

I graduated with pretty good GPA and final test results. It wasn’t my best and I joke and tell my husband, who did slightly better than me in the course, if the Spanish course had been the only thing I had to do, and if the stake for my career had been higher, you would have had no chance doing better than me, and I would have single-handedly surpassed everyone. Then my husband said he didn’t think so because if the course had been the only thing I was supposed to do, I would have found something else to distract myself. Dang… he knows me too well. My mom would always say being able to focus on one thing and to do your best on only one thing at a time is a talent as well. A talent that I do not have. Well, I would like to think of myself as a multitasker, though.

All in all, it was a great experience learning my 4th language. I’ve learned more about myself–mostly my limits, and more importantly, now I really feel like I am multilingual!

 

Resources for doctoral students

This page includes a list of resources that have been a tremendous help throughout my doctoral program. These resources are especially valuable as I have been alway from my school community and I cannot have the assistance and guidance as readily as I wanted them. However, regardless of your distance to your school community, I believe all these resources will help you navigate through the journey into your doctoral program!

Blogs & Websites

  • The professor is in : Dr. Kelsky is hands down the best academic career advisor. She can be brutally honest but I like her precisely for her honesty. If you have no idea how academic job hunting works (which is often the case if you are a new grad student), her blog and her book will be invaluable resources.
  • Get a life PhD :  Dr. Golash-Boza’s blog is more geared toward junior faculty members than grad students. Still this blog has wonderful tips for academic writing and time management skills for academics such as how to do a literature review, how to respond to a journal rejection, and how to make a semester plan.
  • The Thesis whisperer/ The research whisperer : Almost no explanation needed! These blogs have so many tips and advice on how to write a dissertation and how to do research!
  • Patter Blog : A blog by Dr. Pat Thompson. Her blog is as useful & wonderful as her books!
  • PhD life : This is a blog for doctoral students at Warwick University. This blog shares the experience of doctoral students and how they cope with the struggles on the journey.
  • New books in Anthropology : My new favorite! If you are interested in ethnographic studies and love podcasts, this is just perfect. Each podcast episode invites an author of recently published books in Anthropology and talks about their research and the book. There are other podcast channels if you are interested in other fields (e.g. education, Latin American studies..). Please see here.

Books

  • The professor is in : The book by Dr. Kelsky
  • Writing your journal article in 12 weeks : Do you want to write a journal article but don’t know where to start? Get this book. I love, love, love Dr. Belcher’s step-by-step approach to the article writing. And I am sure you’ll too!
  • Destination Dissertation: A Traveler’s Guide to a Done Dissertation : I came to know this book from Dr. Golash-Boza’s blog (all the more reason to read her blog!). Not all the recommendations would be applicable but reading this book, I felt for the first time, that I can write a dissertation.

Twitter/ Facebook

  • Write that PhD : I don’t know how they find all those materials! They share useful websites, book chapters, and articles for dissertation, journal writing and researching
  • Twitter accounts of all your academic crushes : One way for you to feel closer to your academic crushes! (Hope this doesn’t sound creepy..)
  • Twitter or Facebook pages/groups of Special interest groups that you are interested in : If you want to stay connected to your field, this is the way to go. You will be surprised how much information is shared on the facebook page and groups!

 

This list will be updated as I find more resources, so please check out this page regularly!

Updates on the 12 week project & my whereabouts (Back to the maze of languages)

It always feels very awkward to start a posting after a long absence, and this is actually one of the reasons why I haven’t been able to write for so long. So I will just get straight to the point. This posting is to update on the progress on my 12 week journal writing project and what on earth I have been up to lately.

First thing first, about my Writing your journal article in 12 weeks project. I finished revising my article thanks to constructive and insightful feedback from my colleagues and sent it for review almost exactly 8 weeks ago. I think I have passed the journal editor’s initial review and am still waiting for the reviewers’ decision. I cannot help checking the status everyday, although I had expected the wait would take at least three to four months. Overall, the experience was great. I think I’ve grown up so much as an academic and working with a writing partner made the whole process really fun and encouraging. It also helped me refine my research interests as well. I am planning on writing another detailed posting about this experience if I get the good news.

Second, about where in the world I have been for the past two months. I’m back in a language classroom. Not even as a teacher, but as a student. I am learning Spanish with my husband in a military language institute. I’ve been in many different types of language classrooms with a different identity: as an EFL student in Korea, ESL student in the US, English instructor to Korean EFL students, and Korean language instructor to KFL students. But the environment that I am in now is yet another setting that is nothing like the ones that I was in before. Everyone but me speaks English as their first language and there are only two other students who “seriously” learned a foreign language before. Naturally my approach to the Spanish language learning, as an ESL speaker learning her fourth language, is very different with that of the other students. I definitely have some advantages because I know and “do” grammar, and I know, better than anyone if I may be so bold, how learning another language can make you feel–you are always tired because you constantly exert yourself mentally, always have to stay on your toes not to seem stupid, yet at times you still miss things, so feel permanently misunderstood. So I can definitely say I have pretty good endurance for emotional part of learning. But I still have my share of difficulties because I am the only one with different linguistic backgrounds so how I process and understand a foreign language is different. This is, however, such a powerful and great experience that has allowed me to better understand the linguistic and cultural minority students that I would like to serve in the future with my research. At first, it was hard for me to be away from my doctoral studies and research, especially since I have a serious case of academic FOMO (Fear of missing out). But in the end, I’ve found ways to connect dots.

In terms of learning, the experience has been great. Spanish is a really fun language and I am really motivated each day. Hopefully, I can share more about my experience as part of my ongoing autoethnography. And it’d also suit the title of this blog 🙂

Week 8 & Week 9

It has been awhile since I last updated the progress on my journal paper. The past few weeks have been hectic indeed but I still managed to finish the first draft of my paper and send it for feedback to a couple of my friends last week. I’m waiting for their verdicts and I’ll probably get them back today. Once I get the feedback, I’ll work on the activities on week 10 and 11, which are Editing Your Sentences and Wrapping Up Your Article. Then finally, I’ll submit the article to the journal!

Looking back the past 10 weeks, I think the Belcher’s book is a wonderful step-by-step guide for novice journal writers. But it did feel a bit too lengthy at times and my writing partner and I modified the latter part quite a bit to fit our schedule. I think it worked wonderfully overall. But now that we have covered nuts and bolts of how journal writing works, we can shorten the projects into about 8 weeks and maybe add 2-3 weeks of writing the initial draft in the beginning since the workbook is designed to work with a paper already written.

I can’t believe only two weeks left until the end of this project! I think I grew so much as an academic for the past 10 weeks and I learned so much about the world of publication, though I’m sure that was really a tip of the iceberg.

Wrapping up Week 7

This is a long overdue posting. I have decided to focus on writing and revising my paper rather than logging my progress on the blog daily. So now I’m writing this one because I have made major progress in the two sections of my paper: Results and LITERATURE REVIEW!!! I can’t help screaming for joy (on the screen with all caps and the exclamation marks) because as I have said many many times already, I just am not good at literature review.

I have read a couple of books that would help my literature review skills but the one that helped the most was no doubt Foss & Walters’s Destination Dissertation: A Traveler’s Guide to a Done Dissertation. I referred to their literature review chapter for the lit review of my paper. The whole book is absolutely awesome (although I haven’t finished reading the whole book) but the lit review chapter is unbelievably helpful! I have read a book that solely focuses on doing literature review but I think Foss & Walter’s lit review chapter is a lot more doable and novice-proof. The contracted version of this chapter can be found in one of my favorite academic blogs Get a Life, PhD. If you are struggling with literature review, I strongly recommend you using Foss & Walter’s approach.

Anyhow, I was able to finish pretty much the most important section of my paper (i.e., Results) and the most daunting part of my paper (i.e., Literature Review). Introduction and Discussion have their own challenges of course, and I’m by no means good at writing either one, but still wrapping up the Results and Literature Review made me feel that I figured this out. With these, I think the first draft will come out anytime soon. So excited!