In Sogang University (SU), there is a German professor, Prof. Erik-Joachim Jungk (Dept. of German Culture), who received a Master of Arts in Humanities from Seoul National University, and he has lectured both in Germany and Korea. With this experience, he has naturally taken a role of connecting two cultures so near and yet so far. Comparing Korean proverbs and German proverbs was the representative example; it was one of his research topics when he studied Korean Language and Linguistics.
However, he is also connecting two cultures not only by conducting a research, but also by adding a personal touch to students. In events like "Night for the people of German Culture," he usually shouts Geonbae! (Cheers!) while drinking with students. The Sogang Herald interviewed the professor, and here are the stories showing him as a native rather than a foreigner; a young, passionate challenger rather than a rigid professor.
The Sogang Herald (The S.H.): You were appointed as a professor at SU in 2006, and only about two years have passed. As a newly appointed professor, could you tell us your opinion about the image of SU?
Professor Erik-Joachim Jungk (Prof. Jungk): Once I came to SU, I found that the reputation of SU as a hard-working and studious university was accurate. Compared with other universities, I felt that it has a very strict education system. When I was a lecturer in Ewha Womans University, professors often played baduk in department offices and there were fewer pressures for researching and studying for both students and professors. But this is really unimaginable in SU. As you can see, there is only one book which is not related to my research or studies, "How to defend in chess," in my office. Although I am quite satisfied with SU's rigid atmosphere, I think that it should not go too far. Under the current circumstances, students might concentrate only on "signboard": getting a degree or high grade. I guess they have not enough time to care about their "real study" due to keeping on with the rigid, but too simple-minded curriculum. To summarize my opinion, "Depth is as important as much," I think.
The S.H.: It might be a difficult decision for you to go abroad to study in Korea: not a familiar place to students who consider studying abroad. Was there any special reason for you to make such a decision?
Prof. Jungk: "Challenge" was the main idea for me when I decided to come to Korea. To explain more details, this is how it started. When I was an undergraduate, Koreanology was my minor. However, unlike Koreanology in Korea, which is specifically divided only into Korean literature and Korean folklore, I studied almost all aspects of Korea like literature, history, culture and economy superficially. I was fortunately exempted from military service since I lived in West Berlin. This made me relatively free from certain kinds of time restraints, and I was ready to challenge myself. So, once I felt dissatisfaction with the superficiality of Koreanology, it was the time to be bound for Korea.
The S.H.: It is presumed that there were not only good things but were also some difficulties. Could you tell about the biggest difficulty for you in Korea?
Prof. Jungk: I did not feel language, which could be learned as time goes by, was a major problem. Once when I rode a taxi, I was shocked that the taxi driver spoke ill of me in Korean. Maybe the taxi driver regarded me as a foreigner who could not speak Korean at all. Of course, a language barrier existed at first. However, as I could understand such a bad word from the taxi driver, the language barrier was already gone. What I felt most difficult to adapt to was related to the unwelcome attention like the driver showed. Although I have lived in Korea for long time and regarded myself as a foreigner but similar to a Korean, some people still think of me as a stranger. Because I have experienced these kinds of barriers, I really hope SU students are open-minded to anyone who is making an effort to adapt to them.
The S.H.: What have you done to overcome the difficulties of living in Korea?
Prof. Jungk: As I said, although I am not a perfect Korean, I am a foreigner who is very similar to a Korean. However, this was not true when I first arrived in Korea. When I started my life in Korea, I studied Korean and Korean culture in the Yonsei Korea Language Institute to get used to Korean culture and language. Furthermore, as a part of finding the value of Korean culture, I tried brush calligraphy and taekwondo. However, those were ended with brutal failures just because of their difficulty. Chess, then, became my new hobby. To play chess, I need an opponent. However, I was in Korea, so I had to meet Korean people who play chess. Naturally, I could be familiar with Korean culture by talking, laughing and discoursing with them while playing chess. Rather than reluctantly try something in which I had no interest, enjoying my own hobby with Korean people was more effective to be well versed in Korean culture.
The S.H.: How was your life in Korea while you were working on your master? degree in Seoul National University?
Prof. Jungk: Some troubles and differences existed. The way of study and evaluation was very different. For example, there were mid-term examinations, and the style of many lectures encouraged cramming; in Europe, instead, intuition is more important than memorizing. In addition to such differences, I also encountered some prejudices about westerners. I found that Koreans generally have a prejudice that all westerners should have a good command of English. Contrary to that belief, many people of the European continent are not very good at English, and neither was I. For me, my fluent language was Korean rather than English. When professors tried to use English at first, I had to request that they use Korean was better for both me and the other students.
The S.H.: It seems that you have different ideas about some issues. As a person who is different but similar to a Korean, could you give us some of these differences?
Prof. Jungk: Everything is relative so difference is not a fault or mistake, I think. For instance, in Germany, there are only a few mass ceremonies; Germans are more likely to stay at home and enjoy time with their families. So I was really shocked by cheering in the streets during the 2002 World Cup, although I am also a huge football fan. However, shocking and realizing differences are not always equal to trouble. Instead, I tried to be open-minded. Being open-minded about differences with other people could be a bit troublesome for many students. However, it is really important if they wish to get along with others.
The S.H.: Your previous research was related to Korean and German proverbs. Using some proverb which you have studied, could you give any advice to Sogangers?
Prof. Jungk: As in the Korean proverb "trying would not do any harm," I hope Sogangers will be challengers who are not afraid of failure caused by what they did. Believe that what you are doing right now is not meaningless as a whole, and do not be afraid of challenging yourself as I did when I decided to come to Korea. There is a possibility that what you do now will be great for your future, and I also have to say that there is a possibility that it will not be. But again, believe that trying will not do any harm.
By Wee Dae-yoon firstname.lastname@example.org (Editor of The S.H.)