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Note #123: Gearing up (2018.9.13)

Today marks the end of the second week of the fall semester, so technically we are now an eighth of the way through, but in reality it feels like we have just spun up to full speed. The first week of the semester is the add/drop period, which means I can’t do anything long-term (like, for example, having the students divide up into groups for presentations) during that week. The classes aren’t fixed until the beginning of the second week, so it feels like I have only now gotten things underway.

I have two undergrad classes this semester, the usual Korean culture class aimed primarily at exchange students and a class looking at how Korean literature is translated into English. Demand for the former is always high, and I invariably end up taking students beyond the maximum of forty. This requires signing a special form that students can then take to the department to get themselves registered for the class. It is something of a hassle, and you may wonder why I don’t simply raise the limit on enrollment. I could do that, but I don’t, because there is a practical limit on the number of students I can handle in the class, and this allows me to save “extra” spots for those exchange students who are not as skilled at navigating the waters of the enrollment system. This semester, I ended up with a total enrollment of 54 students in this class, but three students had to drop today because they found out their home university would not accept the course for credit, so I’m down to 51.

In the translation class, I had forty students enrolled in the first week (again, with a maximum enrollment of forty), but there was much more attrition in this class, and I ended up with thirty students. I may add one more, but we’ll have to see how that goes. After class today, a desperate student from Australia came up and asked if I would sign an add form. As I mentioned above, the add/drop period ended at the end of last week, but apparently she had just gotten guidance from her university on which courses would count for credit—and none of the courses she had registered for were on the list. My class, though, was on the list, so she begged me to accept her. I had no problem with her joining the class, as there was still room for more students, but since the add/drop period is over this is something that has to be handled at the university administration level. Hopefully the administration will take pity on this poor girl and allow her to register.

So, here I am, with my classes mostly settled now, allowing us to get down to the business of (hopefully) learning. Looking at my calendar, I see that I have a number of deadlines next week, plus plenty to do beyond that in addition to teaching. It is going to be a busy semester—but, then again, I can’t really remember the last time I didn’t have a busy semester. The semester is just a naturally busy time. Usually there is time over the break to recharge and get things done, but I only had a month for that due to my summer class this year, and that month flew by like a Seoul taxi at two o’clock in the morning. I did get some work done, although not nearly as much as I had hope to. But this, too, is par for the course.

I do have some things to look forward to this semester, though. The big one is probably the annual meeting of the American Folklore Society in October. This is something I do every year, and it is always a highlight of the year for me, but this year is special: I am taking four of our grad students to present papers on a panel we put together. I have my own paper to present, which I will be doing on a different panel, but I will be chairing the panel for our grad students. I know the students are looking forward to it—this is the first opportunity that any of them have had to present a paper at an international conference—and I find myself looking forward to AFS this year even more than I usually do.

I’m not sure how many “Hey, it’s the beginning of another semester!” posts I’ve written now. I could go into the archives and count, but I kind of don’t want to. The cyclical nature of university life has a funny way of making time slip away. The beginning of the semester is always hectic, and once things finally settle down you find that midterms are right around the corner. Then you’re on the back nine, and before you know it is final exams and papers, and then—poof!—another half year is in the books. The break provides a little bit of downtime, but then it is time to do it all over again, and another year has gone by in a flash. I remember when a year seemed like a long time, but now... it feels as if the years are creeping away from me on tip toe, and if I don’t keep a sharp eye out they’ll have vanished before I realize it. Once again, I will try to grab this semester by the horns and wring every last bit of juice out of it before it slips away. And I think I’m out of metaphors now, so I’ll leave it at that.

Send me your thoughts.

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