Sunday, November 29, 2009

On Exams and Conferences

Lots to write about and no time and very tired! I just got through a very busy week. We have finished our fall quarter of Korean class, so we had exams to determine whether we would pass into the next level. Oral exam on Tuesday and written on Wednesday. For the oral exam, they gave us four possible topics to prepare presentations on. In the exam, we drew numbers to determine which presentation we would actually give. So in other words, I had to prepare (and memorize!) four different short speeches, though in the actual exam I would only need to do one of them. It seems like a strange testing method, but I realized it is a useful way to review a lot of grammar before the written exam (we're required to use at least 5 of the grammar forms we studied in the presentation).

The tests were in the mornings. Afterwards, I had to eat a quick lunch on the go and scurry off as quickly as possible to the press center building downtown for a conference on foreign aid to the DPRK. The conference was co-hosted by my friends at the Korean Sharing Movement, and they let me come and help out with compiling the English conference notes. It was a good chance for me to meet some interesting people who have actually worked in the field in North Korea.

There sure are a lot of North Korea experts out there. Unfortunately the speaker I was most looking forward to meeting, Dr. Hazel Smith, fell suddenly ill and had to cancel at the last minute. But there were plenty of other interesting speakers. One gentleman had just retired from the WHO and had a lot of strong feelings about how the aid effort was being managed. I enjoyed talking with him and with some of the researchers from KINU. It seems like nobody expects any major changes in DPRK in the near future, so they're resigned to doing the best they can with the status quo for now.

Thursday I skipped the last day of class to go to the last day of the conference, marring my otherwise perfect attendance record. The conference wrapped up with a big luncheon at a Korean-style restaurant which served all my favorites - doenjang-jiggae, bossam-bab, twiggim. They also served some interesting pan-chan (side dishes) including ginseng kimchi, which was a little odd-tasting.

In contrast, on the first night of the conference we had an extremely Western-style dinner at the press center, complete with all the formal dinnerware, 5 forks and 4 knives, and a 5 or 6-course meal which featured a small but very tasty square of steak. For my small contribution of taking notes, it was a pretty nice deal, and meeting the different presenters gave me a chance to observe several potential future career directions for myself.

On Friday we had graduation and I found out that I was able to pass into level 4 Korean class. The graduation ceremony was more elaborate than I expected. The students who were leaving after this quarter had dressed in caps and gowns which had very long sleeves and ropes tied around the waist in a nod to Korean traditional dress. The result looked a little like the 7 dwarves from Snow White. We cheered our one departing classmate as he went to get his certificate. Then they gave out awards to specific people in each class, such as highest score, most improved, most congenial. My teachers had given me the award for most effort, which I found very touching. After the awards, the drama class put on a play, and some other group did a traditional fan dance, and then the departing level 6 students showed a video presentation and they all did a very impressive dance number. If I make it to level 6, I hope I am not expected to dance.

Now I have 2 weeks of vacation before the next class starts. I'm spending the first week in Japan, tying up loose ends and meeting old friends. I arrived in Kansai last night and now I'm staying with my friend Yuka in Kuzuha. I will have more to say in a few days.

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