Saltzman Shares Fulbright Experience with 'Korea Diary'


Spring 2015

Gregory M. Saltzman is E. Maynard Aris Professor of Economics and Management at Albion College. This diary gives an account of Greg's first week in Korea as a Fulbright Scholar.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Greg Saltzman

I am getting ready to go to Seoul, South Korea, to teach at the Hanyang University School of Business on a Fulbright Scholar grant. I will teach an MBA course on negotiation and conflict resolution and a 4th-year undergraduate business course on labor-management relations.

I have taught managerial negotiation many times at Albion College. I have taught labor-management relations there, at the business schools of the University of Michigan and Ohio State University, at Brandeis University, and at the business school of Jilin University in China (where I spent a previous Fulbright grant in 2008). Although I am very familiar with the subject matter of both courses, I anticipate that teaching them to students whose native language is not English will be a challenge.

My wife, Audrey, said that many of my clothes are shabby (she's right), and she wants me, as an American cultural ambassador, to make a positive impression on the Koreans. Last June, when Audrey and I went to Chicago to pick up our son Jonathan on his way back from a two-week trip to China, Audrey had Jonathan (who is immensely more attuned to fashion than I am) bring me to Nordstrom in downtown Chicago to buy a new suit that I could wear in Korea.

Today, Audrey takes me shopping in Ann Arbor and selects some new shirts and one new pair of pants for me to bring to Korea. Audrey then very kindly spends hours packing for me, as I am not very good at spatial relations and do not fit things into a backpack or suitcase very efficiently.

My luggage is VERY heavy, partly because I am bringing 24 ceramic mugs that have the University of Michigan seal on one side and have a logo with a picture of a truck and the words "trucking industry program" on the other. I had coauthored a scholarly journal article published in 2003 on federal regulation of work hours of long-haul truck drivers; and I coauthored a book published in 2007 on truck driver occupational safety and health. My co-author for these studies, Mike Belzer, had used some external grant money to have these mugs made, and he still had 8 dozen remaining in 2015, over a decade later. I took two dozen mugs (Mike had offered me more if I wanted them) to bring as gifts to Koreans I would meet.

Sunday, February 22

I leave home for Korea. Although I anticipate learning a lot that will help me prepare my Albion College students for economic interaction with Korea, I will sorely miss Audrey. When I was first considering applying for a Fulbright grant, I anticipated that Audrey (a physician who previously spent three months as a U.S. Army Reserve doctor in Afghanistan) could get a temporary gig as a U.S. Army doctor in Korea during the time that I would teach at Hanyang University. But Audrey's army gig in Korea did not work out, so I will be in Korea alone, other than possibly a one-week visit to Korea by Audrey.

I bring US$600 in cash to exchange into Korean won. The exchange rate I saw online was 1,120 won to the dollar, but the foreign currency kiosk at Detroit Metro Airport offers the poor rate of 960 to the dollar. I consider the risk that the foreign exchange kiosks at the Incheon airport near Seoul might be closed by the time I arrive, leaving me without any Korean cash until the day after my plane arrives in Korea. I accept the poor exchange rate at Detroit Metro and change my dollars into won in order to be sure that I have Korean won with me when I arrive, just in case I need them.

My plane departs Detroit Metro for Seoul at 3:34 PM. It will be a 14-hour flight.

Monday, February 23

I try to sleep during the flight but cannot sleep at all. But I do see three in-flight movies, each of which I enjoy: "Roaring Currents," about a naval battle between Korea and Japan in 1597 that resulted in a lopsided Korean victory; "Whiplash," about a brutal music teacher who bullies students into practicing endless hours every day so that they will improve their musical technique; and "The King's Speech," about King George VI's efforts to overcome his speech impediment. Audrey would have loved "The King's Speech," though she would have hated "Whiplash."

As we near Seoul, I mistakenly think that the pink I see in the sky is Monday's sunrise. The man sitting next to me in the plane corrects me: it is Monday's SUNSET. A shift of 14 time zones in a single flight can be disorienting.

My plane arrives at Incheon airport at around 7:20 PM, right on time. The Seoul airport is modern and efficient. There are several passport control lines for Koreans and several for non-Koreans. The Korean lines clear first. I then notice that a Korean immigration officer was taking people from the non-Korean line closest to the lines for Koreans, directing the non-Koreans to one of the four passport control desks for Koreans each time one was open. This particular non-Korean line was therefore moving much faster than any of the other non-Korean lines (as it was using five passport control desks instead of one). I switch lines to get into the fast-moving line, and I get through passport control quickly.

I see that the foreign exchange kiosks at Incheon are still open when I arrive. I cannot resist looking at the exchange rate to see if I got taken by the foreign exchange kiosk at Detroit Metro. Rats! The foreign exchange kiosks at Incheon are offering 1,060 per U.S. dollar, a much better rate than the Detroit Metro foreign exchange kiosk offered. I should have waited to change my US$600.

I am spending the night at a moderately priced hotel near the Incheon airport. I realize that I forgot something I need while I'm in Korea and send Audrey a Facebook message asking her to send it to me by FedEx (which won't be cheap, but is still necessary).

 Lotte corn silk tea, with an adaptation of Botticelli's 'The Birth of Venus
Lotte corn silk tea, with an adaptation of Botticelli's 'The Birth of Venus

My hotel room has a mini-fridge with a can of Lotte brand corn silk tea. This tea tastes like fire-roasted corn. The most interesting thing about the tea is the picture on the can: it's an adaptation of Botticelli's "Birth of Venus," with Venus inside a cornhusk rather than standing on a seashell. I should have photographed the can but don't think of it before I check out of the hotel. I later find a bottle of Lotte corn silk tea in a store and photograph it with my cell phone.

Tuesday, February 24

I got about 9 hours of desperately needed sleep last night in the hotel near the airport. A driver from the Korean-American Educational Commission (KAEC, the bi-national organization that handles Fulbright Scholars in Korea) comes to my hotel to bring me to Seoul. I settle into a lovely 2 BR apartment in the KAEC building, where I'll stay one night. KAEC has 10 apartments for Fulbright grantees, and it's fortunate for me that one is vacant right now.

Randy Tarnowski, the KAEC Executive Assistant, spends almost three hours with me today. He takes me out to lunch with two other Americans in their early 20's, one of whom also works in the KAEC office and one of whom has a Fulbright grant in Korea. We go to a noodle shop, where we each get a very large bowl of soup with spaghetti-shaped noodles. The three of them, all experienced Korea hands by now, suck the noodles into their mouths the way a 3-year-old in America sucks in a strand of spaghetti. Taking my cue from them about what is socially acceptable in a Korean restaurant, I suck the noodles in my soup into my mouth as well. Eating long noodles like a 3-year-old without incurring any social stigma is fun.

After lunch, Randy helps me buy a subway/bus fare card to which I can later add more money. He helps me buy a prepaid Korean SIM card and installs it in my cell phone, so that Koreans can make a local call when calling me and so that I can use 4G to access Google maps when I need help making my way around Seoul. He walks with me a couple of blocks to a basement grocery store that I never would have found on my own because it's in a basement, and the street-level sign is written in hangul, the Korean alphabet. I buy some food that I will use for dinner tonight and for tomorrow's breakfast. The cherry tomatoes and mandarin oranges that I bought turn out to be absolutely delicious.

By 7:20 PM Tuesday, I have been in South Korea for 24 hours. And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day.

In the evening Seoul time (early morning Michigan time), I use a virtual private network to connect to an American computer system, and then use Google voice to make a free phone call to Audrey. (The VPN causes Google voice to think that I am in the U.S., calling another number in the U.S.) Audrey is running in the pre-dawn darkness, wearing yak tracks (gripping devices) on the soles of her shoes in case she encounters ice on the sidewalks of Ann Arbor. She talks with me on her cell phone as she runs. It's wonderful hearing Audrey's voice.

Wednesday, February 25

After a decent night's sleep (though I'm still not adjusted to Korean time because of jet lag), I use the VPN to speak by telephone again with Audrey, who has just gone to the FedEx office on my behalf. I also have a free video conference with my 94-year-old mother, via Skype. (I have no complaints about the price of free Internet communication services!) And I make free phone calls to each of my sons—Daniel, David, and Jonathan Saltzman—and to my Aunt Mona.

I get on a city bus to travel to Yonsei University, where there's a branch of Woori Bank that will allow me to open a Korean bank account without an alien registration card (which I won't get for another four weeks). With my SIM card from a Korean telecoms company, I can use Google maps to follow my progress on the bus towards Yonsei University. At the branch of Woori Bank in the basement of the student union at Yonsei University, I open a savings account and get an ATM/debit card. To open the bank account, I have to sign a lot of forms in Korean, which I do not understand. I earnestly hope that I have not just signed a contract selling my sons into slavery. On the positive side, rowing is excellent aerobic exercise, so that my sons will become models of physical fitness if Woori Bank makes them into galley slaves. More seriously, having to sign a lot of forms using the hangul alphabet (which I cannot read) to spell Korean words (which I would not understand even if transliterated into the Roman alphabet) helps me better appreciate the challenges faced by an immigrant who comes to America not speaking English and perhaps not being familiar with the Roman alphabet.

A Verizon app on my cell phone (which I brought with me from Michigan to Korea) keeps popping up, interrupting what I'm doing. Perhaps the problem arose because I removed the Verizon SIM card and replaced it with a pre-paid SIM card from a Korean telecoms company. Fortunately, my son David is a computer wizard: master's degree in electrical and computer engineering from Stanford, currently working as a software engineer for a subsidiary of Google. David tells me over the phone how to fix the problem. I may need to consult him or my son Daniel (who is also quite tech savvy) in late June, when I return from Korea and will restore my Verizon SIM card to its throne of honor inside my cell phone.

I wear gloves this morning. But by mid afternoon, the temperature in Seoul reaches a balmy 50°F. Last Friday morning, the early morning temperature in Ann Arbor had been a frigid –26°F. It's funny how a difference of only 5 days and a trip of a mere 6,587 miles could cause a 76°F temperature change.

I return by city bus to the KAEC office, where Randy Tarnowski copies my Korean bank account number so that my Fulbright payments can be directly deposited at Woori Bank. He helps me fill out an application for an alien registration card. I give him a passport-sized photo of myself that I brought from the U.S., and he'll send my application and the photo to the appropriate Korean authorities.

Randy then introduces me to Jai Ok Shim, the Executive Director of KAEC. Her entrepreneurial spirit and her business savvy impress me. In order to raise funds, she arranged for KAEC to serve as a testing site where Koreans wishing to study in America could take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), and KAEC received compensation for its testing administration services.

Saltzman and KAEC executive director Jai Ok Shim
Saltzman and KAEC executive director Jai Ok Shim

Jai Ok Shim tells me that reunification of Korea is inevitable, even though the timing cannot be predicted, and she wants KAEC to play a role in preparing for the eventual transition of North Korea from central planning and poverty to a market economy and prosperity. I agree with her that it is wise to prepare for this. I suggest that she ask for funding from the U.S. government to bring 25 American professors and government experts to South Korea for six weeks in summer 2016, so that they can participate with Korean professors and government experts in an extended dialog about how to make this transition work. I say that many Americans were involved as technical experts on economic transition after the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, and perhaps their experience in Eastern Europe would have useful lessons for Korea. She likes my suggestion quite a bit.

An hour and a half after my talk with Jai Ok Shim begins, Randy comes into her office and says that my Hanyang University teaching assistant is waiting at my Hanyang University apartment building to let me in. (Randy says that I set a new record for the length of my introductory conversation with the KAEC executive director.) I ask Randy to use his digital camera to take my picture with Jai Ok Shim, who seems surprised that I would want my picture taken with her. After the picture, I quickly go upstairs to the KAEC apartment where I had spent the night before and pack up my stuff.

The KAEC driver then braves Seoul rush hour traffic to bring me to my Hanyang University apartment building. He speaks almost no English. But when the 1960's song, "Yesterday," plays on his car radio and I say to him, "The Beatles," he nods and says "Beatles."

An hour later, I arrive at my Hanyang University apartment building. My TA, Soo Yeon Kang (or Kang Soo Yeon, as the Koreans would say it), had been waiting for me at the entrance to the building for an hour. I am embarrassed to have kept her waiting. She then shows me my apartment, the number for which is very easy for me to remember: 613 (the number of commandments in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible).

My apartment is a single room, but it has a stove, a full size fridge, a microwave, and even a clothes washing machine and a clothes drying rack. The latter two are a pleasant surprise; I had anticipated having to walk with my dirty laundry a block or two to the nearest Laundromat. I later learn that washers are much more common than clothes dryers in South Korea. Perhaps higher energy prices in Korea than in America contribute to the widespread use of clothes drying racks in Korea.

Soo Yeon walks me to the entrance of the subway that I will take to Hanyang University and brings me one stop on the subway to Wangsimni Station, where three subway lines and two railroad lines intersect. At Wangsimni, there is a there is a large discount store named E-mart. It's in a very large building that also houses an Imax theater, an indoor water park, a convention center, and an indoor golf-driving range.

 The E-mart store at Wangsimni subway station in Seoul
The E-mart store at Wangsimni subway station in Seoul

Standing at the entrance to E-mart, a young man wearing a sports coat and tie (a store employee) bows to each customer who enters.

The shopping carts are chained together. To get a cart, you must put a 100-won coin in a slot. You can retrieve your coin when you return the cart. A 100-won coin is not worth much—less than one U.S. dime. But shoppers do seem to be returning their carts to the cart area in order to retrieve their coins. Perhaps if people are already socialized to do the right thing, a tiny financial incentive is enough to maintain their good behavior.

Soo Yeon is my guide as I proceed through the store buying food and other items that I need right away (like a sheet to fit the bed in my apartment, which is wider than an American twin bed but narrower than an American full bed). It's great having her there as a translator; she can identify from the hangul labels which yogurt is sugar-free and low fat (alas, none are nonfat), and she can ask the store clerks where in the store I can find a fitted sheet. In the grocery section, they sell both regular chicken eggs and also some much smaller eggs. I ask Soo Yeon what the smaller eggs are, and she says they're quail eggs.

There are two levels to E-mart; all the groceries are on the lower level, while the bed sheet I need is on the upper level. E-mart has something I've never seen in the U.S.: an escalator with a smooth moving ramp, rather than with moving steps. This design allows you to put a shopping cart on the escalator and let the ramp carry you up or down a flight. This makes a lot of sense in a big city with expensive land; even stores like E-mart where customers use shopping carts have more than one level. I vaguely recall having seen a similar escalator before. I cannot remember whether this was in Korea, during my three-day visit in 2008; or in Japan, which I have visited three times.

Soo Yeon's spoken English is fairly good. It turns out that she spent several years in Michigan. After completing her undergraduate degree in Korea, she got a second undergrad degree at Michigan State. Then, she got a master's degree at the School of Human Resources and Labor Relations at Michigan State—a master's program where I have sent several of my Albion College students. Soo Yeon worked in human resource management in Korea for a few years after her master's degree and is now a PhD student in human resources at Hanyang University.

The E-mart store has staff everywhere, providing free samples in the grocery section and urging customers to buy items on sale at discounted prices in the non-grocery section. I tell Soo Yeon that it might be interesting for her, as a doctoral student in human resources, to research the contrast between sparsely staffed American stores, like Meijer in Michigan, and this heavily staffed Korean store. Soo Yeon says that Korean customers would not be satisfied with the lower level of service in an American store like Meijer. I ask whether they WOULD be satisfied if sparse staffing reduces the price substantially.

Prices do seem higher in this store than in a Meijer, though high levels of staffing may be only part of the reason. This store is in the middle of a city of 11 million people, where land is undoubtedly expensive; but Meijer stores are typically located on the fringes of cities, where land is cheap.

[I still remember traveling to Honolulu a few years ago and being amazed that Hawaiian pineapple was more expensive there than in Ann Arbor. Obviously, the shipping costs for pineapple were much lower for a Honolulu store than for an Ann Arbor store. But store rents and labor costs were higher in Honolulu than in Ann Arbor. And the pineapple in Honolulu tasted better than that in Ann Arbor, perhaps because it could be picked when fully ripe.]

Soo Yeon and I briefly discuss what her TA duties for me will entail. I certainly do not expect her to be my guide and translator for future shopping trips. One of the master's courses she took at MSU was negotiation. This is great preparation for the work I want her to do. My MBA course at Hanyang, on negotiation and conflict resolution, will involve a lot of experiential learning, where the students repeatedly negotiate with each other based on various role-playing scenarios. When I teach negotiation at Albion College, I observe my students negotiating and give them feedback on what they did especially well and suggestions about how they can improve the things that they didn't do so well. But my Albion students negotiate with each other in English. My guess is that my Hanyang MBA students will often negotiate with each other in Korean—a language that I do not speak. (My son Jonathan is gifted at learning foreign languages, but he got that gene from Audrey, not from me.) Therefore, I ask Soo Yeon to attend all of the classes for my MBA negotiation course, observing the students negotiate, especially the ones speaking Korean. She can give feedback to the students, and also provide me with a summary of which students are doing especially well or especially poorly in the role-playing exercises.

After Soo Yeon helps me haul my groceries and other purchases back to my apartment (going far beyond the call of duty for a TA), she leaves for her home. I think some more about her possible TA responsibilities and send an email to her and to my Hanyang University department chair, Yuhyung Shin. I suggest that Soo Yeon, if she feels comfortable doing it, give one or even several lectures in my undergraduate labor-management relations class. Her lectures, I say, should be on labor relations issues specific to Korea: the historical role of South Korean labor unions in helping to overthrow South Korea's military dictatorship, Korean labor law, etc. This would give Soo Yeon experience lecturing (something that would help prepare her for a faculty job) and also give the students information about Korean institutions from an instructor more knowledgeable by far about that topic than I.

I've had many email exchanges with Yuhyung, an organizational behavior professor who chairs the Business Administration Department in the Hanyang University School of Business. She got her PhD at Columbia University in the U.S. and reads and writes English well. But I have not yet met her in person. I'm scheduled to meet Yuhyung this Friday at 1 PM. Soo Yeon will arrive at Yuhyung's office Friday at 1:30 PM. I'll find out Friday afternoon what they think about Soo Yeon giving one or a few lectures in my labor-management relations class.

The 6th floor in my apartment building is used by Hanyang University to house not only visiting faculty from abroad, but also international students. Some of the students—like students living in college or university dorms in the U.S.—are noisy. I'll search my luggage to find the earplugs so that I can sleep. Despite the noise from the students, though, I am very pleased by the gracious hospitality shown to me so far by KAEC and Hanyang University.

Thursday, February 26

I go down to the lobby of my apartment building and ask the building manager how to turn on the gas for my stove. He rides with me up the elevator to my 6th floor apartment and shows me where the shutoff valve is. While he's there, he explains the settings on my heating system, the controls for which are labeled in the hangul alphabet. (Again, I am reminded of what a handicap it is to be illiterate in a society set up for people who can read.) Like typical Korean dwellings, my apartment is heated beneath the floorboards. The heating system controls allow me to raise or lower the temperature of the hot water that flows under my floor.

I make a second trip, this time alone, to E-mart. Today, I walk the entire trip both ways, so that I can get better oriented. One of the walk/don't walk lights plays a lovely bird song when it shifts to "walk," alerting a vision-impaired person that it's safe to cross the street.

Some women in Seoul walk on the sidewalk hand-in-hand or arms interlocked with another woman. A Korean guidebook I read stated that such public displays of affection do not necessarily convey anything, in the Korean social context, about a woman's sexual orientation.

I reach the complicated intersection where the E-mart is but don't see E-mart. Things look different when approaching from above ground, rather than from one of 11 exits from the huge subway station. Finally, I locate E-mart. I make a few more food purchases. Among these are two items that I had not planned to buy—a bag of frozen vegetable dumplings, and a box of quinoa-flax seed-chia seed tea. These I buy because I like the free samples that the E-mart employees offer. Maybe the high staffing ratios in E-mart are not so bad for profitability after all.

I walk back to my apartment from E-mart. I unpack my things, set up my apartment, and do a load of laundry. Even though the washing machine is fairly noisy, I fall asleep at 8:45 PM, about 12 feet away from my washing machine. I sleep till 2 AM, am up for a while, and then go to sleep again.

Friday, February 27

The Hanyang University School of Business building
The Hanyang University School of Business building

I make my first trip to the Hanyang University School of Business. The School of Business building is only a few years old and seems quite nice.

My office window has a southern exposure and a nice view of a park with a plaza and athletic courts. The backboards by the basketball hoops have the NBA logo and say "NBA" in the Roman alphabet.

To my surprise, my office has a sink and a mirror. Apparently, a sink and a mirror are standard in Hanyang University School of Business offices.

The window by the 6th floor elevator in the School of Business building faces north, the opposite view from that in my office. In the northern view, I can see mountains in the distance, framing the Seoul metropolis.

I meet my department chair, Yuhyung Shin. Her research assistant graciously gives me a bottle of blueberry juice, which tastes good. Yuhyung supplied my office with a laptop and a printer, despite her prior assessment that neither would be available. She says that the dean of the School of Business has invited me to attend the faculty meeting next Friday and a dinner immediately after the meeting, even though I'm only a one-semester visitor. Faculty are expected to dress up for this meeting. I am glad that I brought a suit with me to Korea.

 View from my office window at the Hanyang University School of Business
View from my office window at the Hanyang University School of Business

Yuhyung asks how I feel about the walk from the subway stop to the School of Business building. I say it's fine. She says that some people object to it; one has to ascend a fairly steep hill. I say that I wear comfortable walking shoes.

Yuhyung informs me that it is common for teaching assistants in Korea to be located in the same office as the professors for whom they work, though I had the option of following the American custom of having my TA in different office with other graduate students. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. I decide to try the Korean way, at least for a while. Having Soo Yeon located in my office will certainly make it more convenient for me to ask questions about Korea, so that I may learn more than I would have had I been in my office alone all the time. And now I know why my Hanyang University School of Business office is so large (maybe 27 feet by 13 feet): it was made to accommodate not only a professor, but also one or more TA's or research assistants.

Soo Yeon spends about four hours this afternoon helping me get things set up in my office and ready for my courses. The laptop Yuhyung provided for my office, not surprisingly, has Korean for the default language. Because of my ignorance of the Korean language, I cannot read the pull-down menus on the computer and so cannot change the language to English. I ask Soo Yeon to help me with this. It turns out that this computer needs many software updates before the language can be changed, so Soo Yeon starts the software update process.

View from the north side of the Hanyang University School of Business building
View from the north side of the Hanyang University School of Business building

I have larger enrollment than expected in my undergraduate course, Labor-Management Relations. The preliminary enrollment is 58. Yuhyung, expecting enrollment of about 40, had booked me for a smaller room. Soo Yeon makes the necessary phone calls to switch my class to larger rooms—plural, because I'll have one room on Wednesdays and a different room on Fridays (the consequence of switching rooms just before the semester begins).

I learn that 19 of the 58 students in my Labor-Management Relations course are foreigners, probably attracted by the opportunity to take a class taught in English rather than Korean (even though the first language for some of these students may be Chinese or French, based on their names).

My MBA course, Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, has 10 students, nine of whom are Korean. A non-MBA master's student later tells me that he would have liked to have taken my Negotiation course, but the School of Business restricts enrollment to MBA students.

With department chair Yuhyung Shin and my teaching assistant Soo Yeon Kang

Soo Yeon also initiates the process of getting me a Hanyang University School of Business ID card. They want my alien registration card number. I explain to Soo Yeon that I applied for an alien registration card two days ago but was told that it may take four weeks for the alien registration card to arrive. She then makes a phone call and, speaking Korean, explains the situation to the person who issues School of Business ID cards.

Soo Yeon also gets to work on setting up the web sites for my courses, where students will read handouts and assigned articles for my courses. I start emailing Soo Yeon some of the assigned articles so that she can post them.

At 5:30 PM, the software updates on the old laptop that Yuhyung provided for my office still have not finished, so Soo Yeon and I just leave the laptop on over the weekend. She and I leave the School of Business building, and she walks me to the subway stop. Soo Yeon takes one subway line going to her home, while I take a different subway line to the KAEC office.

I arrive at KAEC around 6:45 PM, in time for a 7 PM talk by a Fulbright-funded researcher. The researcher, who graduated from law school in the U.S., has been studying South Korean law and policy concerning child abuse. She says that Korean courts had historically been much more reluctant than U.S. courts to intervene in child abuse cases, viewing this as an intrusion into what ought to be the private business of families. Some highly publicized child abuse cases in 2013 led to a major change in Korean law in early 2014. After the talk, I chat with some of the other members of the audience, including a historian who retired from the University of California San Diego and is now teaching in Seoul and an anthropologist at the University of Virginia who is a Fulbright Scholar in Korea for a year doing research. The anthropologist's 2nd grade daughter is here in Seoul with her, but her husband and 13-year-old son are in the U.S. Her son insisted that he could not go to Korea for a year because he wanted to continue playing soccer with his U.S. soccer team. I tell the anthropologist that two of my three sons are very engaged in sports, and I could see either of them saying the same thing in those circumstances.

It's now Friday night, a little over four full days since I arrived in Korea. I have not had any time to do any tourism. But I did open a Korean bank account, apply for a Korean alien registration card, get a SIM card from a Korean telecoms company for my smart phone so that I could make and receive local calls and use 4G internet for Google maps and a Seoul subway app, settle into my Seoul apartment, make three grocery shopping trips, get one Hanyang University ID card (I'll get a second on Monday), start setting up my Hanyang University School of Business office, start preparing materials for my Hanyang University course web sites, do one load of laundry, partly overcome my jet lag, buy a bus/subway fare card, take two bus trips, take a lot of subway trips, and successfully navigate a city of 11 million people without getting more than a little bit lost.

Saturday, February 28

I walk all the way from my apartment to my office at the School of Business, rather than take the subway. The trip takes a little less than 45 minutes, the last 10 minutes up a substantial hill that gives a bit of an aerobic workout.

Hanyang University owns an Olympic gymnasium—literally. I can see it from my office window if I look to the left. This gym has seating for 10,000 spectators and was used for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Alas, there will never be 10,000 cheering fans watching me use an elliptical machine, giving me hearty encouragement. Indeed, I cannot even use the Olympic gym, which is reserved for sports competitions. I may be able to use a very small gym in the basement of the School of Business building; I will ask about that on Monday. And I'll build exercise into my daily routine by walking an hour and 25 minutes total to and from work. If there's heavy rain, though, I'll take the subway.

[The thought of using an elliptical machine with cheering fans reminds me of an incident about 30 years ago. I was then an assistant professor at Brandeis University near Boston, and I commuted to work by bicycle along Commonwealth Avenue. Comm Ave has two paved roadways separated by a wide grassy median. The Boston Marathon is routed along one of those roadways, and spectators stand on the grassy median cheering the runners. Once, I happened to bicycle home from work during the Boston Marathon, using the other Comm Ave roadway that is behind the backs of the spectators. The intellectual part of my brain knew with absolute certainty that none of the spectators was cheering for me—indeed, they were looking in the opposite direction and did not even see me. But the emotional part of my brain felt absolutely exhilarated. Somehow, the limbic system of my brain was not getting the message from my cerebral cortex.]

I am surprised that Korean drivers are not as courteous to pedestrians as I remembered from my three-day visit in 2008. That visit came immediately after living in China for six weeks. Probably, the Korean drivers SEEMED very courteous to pedestrians because my baseline for comparison was the behavior of drivers in China—who sometimes are aggressive and unpredictable. My current stay in Korea comes immediately after my being in Michigan, where drivers are a lot better than in China. Hence, I am surprised to learn that Korean drivers do not automatically stop when a pedestrian enters a zebra crossing. (Maybe they would stop if a real zebra enters a zebra crossing, but I am a mere human rather than a zebra.)

I walk back to my apartment, noting that there's a branch of Woori Bank about three blocks from the E-mart by Wangsimni Station. I may use an ATM at this branch to withdraw cash from my Woori Bank account. Right now, though, there's only 10,000 won (a little less than U.S.$100) in my account. I'll have to wait till my first Fulbright paycheck is deposited on March 24 before I can withdraw much cash. Indeed, I may have to start using my credit card, as my supply of cash and traveler's checks may be exhausted before March 24 if I don't.

There's a huge construction site just outside the window of my apartment. A complex one block wide and about eight blocks long is being built. There are nine big cranes and many construction workers. Fortunately, there is no construction noise at night.

View from my apartment
A view from my apartment

I bought a Teflon-coated pot at E-mart on Wednesday night, and now I want to use it. There's an anti-theft device from the store locked to the pot by a steel wire going through the pot handle, and I cannot remove it. Then, I remember that Audrey packed me a Leatherman tool. I use the pliers on the Leatherman to grasp the wire firmly and bend it back and forth repeatedly. Suddenly, metal fatigue kicks in, and the wire breaks. I remove the anti-theft device and can now cook dinner with the Teflon pot.

By Saturday night, I have been able to have free video conferences with Audrey, each of our sons (Daniel, David, and Jonathan), and my mother. It is quite a blessing to have this telecommunication capability; otherwise, I'd be feeling pretty lonely by now.

Sunday, March 1

I awaken at 3:46 AM. I still have not made the complete 14-hour time shift to Korean time.

Hours after I awaken, I walk again to E-mart to buy liquid hand soap for the sink in my office at the Hanyang University School of Business. This will avoid the messy residue associated with leaving a wet bar of soap on a porcelain sink top. While I'm at E-mart, I want to buy M&M's and zip lock plastic bags that I will use for a negotiation exercise in my first MBA class next Saturday. (The students bargain over M&M's in one of my first negotiation exercises, which motivates them.) I cannot find the zip lock plastic bags. The Google Translate app on my smart phone comes to the rescue. I say "plastic sandwich bags" into the smart phone microphone, and Google Translate shows those words in both English and Korean. I show the smart phone screen to a store clerk, and he directs me to the section of the store where plastic sandwich bags are sold. Hurray for Google Translate!

While E-mart has many employees at sample stands hawking various foods, only one store employee has a microphone: a fishmonger. I have no idea what he is saying, but he maintains a steady stream of chatter.

As I walk back to my apartment from E-mart, I encounter a man on stilts, walking around outside an LG appliance and electronics store. I gesture with my cell phone indicating that I'd like to take his picture, and he kindly poses for me.

Man on stilts handing out pamphlets for LG electronics store in Seoul
Man on stilts handing out pamphlets for LG electronics store in Seoul

On Wednesday, I bought a box of mandarin oranges at E-mart. I have almost finished devouring the last of the oranges in that box. Although most of them were quite good, three on the bottom of the box were mostly covered with white mold on the night I bought them. I decide NOT to buy more mandarin oranges at E-mart. Instead, I buy them from a little produce store that uses the sidewalk to display about half of their wares. None of the mandarin oranges from the sidewalk stall have mold, and they taste good. I'll come back to this produce store in the future.

I do my second load of laundry in the small washing machine in my apartment. This time, I'm still awake when the load finishes. The washing machine plays a cute little electronic tune to announce that the load is done—MUCH nicer than a buzzer.

Monday, March 2

I awake this morning at 4:30 AM—still early, but I am making progress in adjusting to the Korean time zone.

At around 9:15 AM, I leave my apartment and head down the hall to the elevator. I ask the man waiting there if he speaks English, and then introduce myself. We chat for a few minutes as we ride the elevator and walk to the nearest subway stop. He's from India and lives in another apartment on my floor. He is a post-doctoral fellow in Hanyang University's materials science and engineering department. When we reach the subway entrance, he descends to the subway, which he'll take to Hanyang University. I continue walking because I want to go on foot the entire way.

I realize after I am partway to work that I forgot to bring the salad that I prepared for myself and left in a plastic box in my refrigerator. This was to be part of my lunch today, along with some tuna or salmon from a can with a pull-tab top. At least I have the canned tuna and salmon, which I put in my backpack last night. I certainly do NOT want to touch the M&M's that I brought for my first Negotiation and Conflict Resolution class this Saturday; it has been a struggle for me to lose weight. I will ask Soon Yeon to divide the M&M's into 10 zip lock bags as part of her TA job duties, so that I don't gobble any of the M&M's.

As I arrive at my office around 10 AM on the first day of classes, I notice that almost all of the faculty office doors are closed. The doors open outwards, into the hallway, rather than into the office. I also notice that the hallway floors are tile, rather than carpet, so that noise from the hallway is reflected rather than muffled. These architectural features could be both causes and consequences of faculty doors not being kept open. I leave my door open because I want to meet my faculty colleagues. I meet the professor in the office next door; he teaches global business. Once I get to know more people, I will keep my office door closed, as everybody else does, so that I am not distracted by noise when I am trying to work.

The old Windows laptop that Yuhyung provided for my office still has not finished all of the updates. There's an error message on the screen in hangul letters. I leave the Windows laptop alone, waiting for Soo Yeon to arrive and see what the Korean text says. I'm glad that I brought my MacBook Pro with me from my apartment to my office this morning. I operate the MacBook laptop that I brought from the U.S. on battery power, as the electrical power outlet near the Ethernet cable is fully in use. I make a note that I should buy an extension cord in E-mart on the way home.

PowerPoint slide I prepare a PowerPoint presentation for both of my classes, introducing my background and experience. I realize that many of the students will not know which name is my family name and which is my personal name. The second slide therefore addresses this issue:

This PowerPoint Presentation also includes a slide with a map showing where in the U.S. I live and work and explaining very briefly and not fully adequately what a liberal arts college is.

Soo Yeon arrives and reads the Korean-language text of the Windows laptop error message. She restarts the updates to address the ones that didn't finish before the error occurs.

A master's student in human resources and labor relations stops in to say hello to me. He bows as he greets me. We chat for about 10 minutes, and I learn that he is serving as a TA for a professor teaching an organizational theory class.

I meet Professor Yu Gyu-Chang, who teaches human resource management and labor relations at Hanyang University. He received his PhD from the industrial relations program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I received my PhD from UW-Madison in economics, but I took several industrial relations courses and wrote an industrial relations dissertation. Gyu-Chang bows to me because I am his "senior"—that is, we went to the same school but I have seniority because I graduated some years before he did. We talk, and I learn that we have a friend in common who got his PhD in industrial relations at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and now works at the University of Michigan. Gyu-Chang suggests that he, Lim Sanghoon (another Hanyang University School of Business professor who received his PhD in industrial relations from the University of Wisconsin-Madison), and I have an extended conversation sometime. He asks me if I drink, and I say no. Gyu-Chang then suggests it would be more appropriate for us to go out to lunch together than to go out in the evening. It may shock some of my Korean faculty colleagues that I drink almost no alcohol, just as it shocks some of my Albion College students that I watch almost no TV. (I spend a lot of time reading.)

Today the sky is clear, and bright sunlight streams into my office through my south-facing windows. The light makes my office warm and cheerful, and it motivates me to clean the outside of the windows to the extent that I can. I slide to the right a lower window that opens, and then slide the screen to the right. Reaching my arm through the open hole, I use damp paper towels to clean a portion of the outside of the windows. I have removed some of the grime left by "yellow wind" (a mix of dust and industrial pollutants from northern China, blown east over Korea), giving me a better view. But my arm is not long enough to reach a lot of the grime. I would need a squeegee with a very long handle to be able to clean the entire outside surface of my windows—that, or scaffolding (because my office is on the sixth floor).

Before I leave the School of Business for the day, I stop in the administrative office for the business school. I talk with the general manager of the administrative team for the School of Business, Park Kyung Ran. She asks me if I would like to have her order some business cards with my Hanyang University School of Business appointment, printed in Korean on one side and English on the other. I gratefully say yes. She asks if there is anything else I need; I answer that I'd like a trashcan and an extension cord for my office, as well as some help with the Windows laptop in my office. Ms. Park says that, if necessary, they'll get me a new office computer. I ask her about using the very small gym in the basement of the School of Business building; she says that she'll check into that. Again, I am very pleased with how helpful people here have been.

I walk over 40 minutes from the School of Business to my apartment without once consulting the Google Maps app on my cell phone. I have learned the route. I have even practiced a couple of Korean words: "annyeonghaseyo" (hello) and "gamsahabnida" (thank you). My wife, Audrey, or our son Jonathan would probably know a few dozen words of Korean had they been in Korea for a full week, but I lack their extraordinary gift for learning foreign languages. Nevertheless, learning at least a couple of Korean words is a good way for me to show respect for Korea's culture.

Wednesday, March 11

The red symbol does not mean what you might think it means
The red symbol does not mean what you might think it means

As I walk home after work, I see a sign with a swastika. This is a Buddhist swastika, not a Nazi swastika. Nazi swastikas are "right facing" (meaning that the top arm points to the viewer's right) and are rotated 45º. This swastika is "left facing" (meaning that the top arm points to the viewer's left).

I am no admirer of the Nazis; three of my four grandparents had siblings murdered in the Holocaust. But it intrigues me that a symbol that is deeply stigmatized in Europe and North America has a very different social significance in Asia.

I am even more intrigued by the sign when my TA, Soo Yeon, tells me what the Korean text says. She says that it is a house sign for a possessed shaman, advertising the shaman's prediction services. The Korean text literally says, "Mt. Kyeiryong Taoist fairy," suggesting that the shaman was possessed by a spirit in Mt. Kyeiryong.

Koreans consult shamans much as some Americans would consult a person claiming to be a psychic. During Korea's Joseon dynasty (1392-1897), shamans were ostracized as members of a social class perceived to be inferior, but they were still consulted because of their perceived spiritual power. Even today, many Koreans consult shamans for advice from the spirit world. Soo Yeon, who is a Christian, tells me that she is embarrassed by the ongoing appeal of shamans to many Koreans.

Sunday, March 15

Greg Saltzman at Gyeongbokgung Palace

It's the end of my first three weeks in Korea, and I finally have time for some tourism. I see Gyeongbokgung Palace, the National Folk Museum, and the National Palace Museum. I am one of two Anglophones on an English language guided tour of the Folk Museum. We pass an exhibit about shamans. I ask the guide how many Korean Christians consult shamans. She answers, "A lot of people have a skeleton in their closet."

Over the palace wall, I see the Blue House--the home of the President of Korea. A large Korean flag flies overhead.


The views expressed in this diary are Greg Saltzman's and do not necessarily the views of Albion College, Hanyang University, the Korean-American Educational Commission, or the Fulbright Scholar program.