eing a teacher has been very rewarding and I am happy I chose this field. Anyway, I still wanna get back to SweetLilV‘s question, but I can’t seem to narrow down what might be the craziest thing I’ve ever done…. Maybe I’ll take another call.
Go For Broke
O-man: Hi, you’re on the air.
scslider: how do you have these questions?? are they asked with the comments, and you answer them??
O-man: Hey dude. What’s up. I’ve been known to take questions from comments–like yours–and randomly put them “on the air.” I don’t usually add to them–except for an occasional word or to for flow, but I will break them up to make it look like a real conversation. Anyway, last Friday, I mentioned that it was soon going to be my one-year anniversary, and in a “special” deal, I told everyone who read that entry that I’d answer any personal questions–within limits of course. I think you were having to much in LA? Hehehehe. *click* You’re on the air.
Ekin: So Oni-sensei, what made you want to be a professor… a Japanese professor at that?
O-man: What do you mean by “Japanese professor AT THAT”?
Ekin: Well, you’d think that Asians who grew up during your time would try their best to “fit in” and assimilate.
O-man: Don’t you guys have easier questions? Like what kind of car I drive, or when I got my last hair cut… *click* Hi, you’re on the air.
SleepingCutie: I don’t know if you ever wrote about this but…
O-man: SleepingCutie! What’s up girly girl. Gald you could drop by! So what’s you’re question?
SleepingCutie: What made you major in Japanese? =)
O-man: *sigh* Not you, too… I mean, I thought I could count on you… Why would you want to ask such a question?
SleepingCutie: I’ve always wanted to learn more Japanese and Korean, but *sigh* Oh wells!
O-man: Okay, how can I say “No” to OG? Um, that’s the O-girl, for those of you who don’t know… Not Onigiri Girl, but Ordinary Girl. Anyway, okay, let me kinda continue the previous post about the professor who changed my life.
After I got accepted to UCLA, I was still kinda nervous. How could such an academic loser succeed at UCLA? But I thought I’d better at least try, go head on, go for broke–as the old JA 442 cry went. I even thought to follow the footsteps of the man who inspired me, by majoring in biology and entertaining thoughts of going to *gulp* medical school. But transfering to UCLA wasn’t all that easy. I had to declare a major, and I learned that to major in bio, I had to have already taken a prescribed number of courses, including a whole bunch of science class that I would never have taken at ELAC. So I had to look for another major. I looked through the catelogue they had sent me and my eyes caught “Japanese.” Hmmm. If I can’t major in the field that I want, maybe I’ll major in a field I was already good at, I thought. And so I majored in Japanese. Sounds dumb, doesn’t it. But sometimes our choices come by accident. Disappointed?
Be that as it may, I took some courses and soon found that my Japanese wasn’t as good as I thought it was. Worse, I found that courses at this level were really hard. In my last two semesters at ELAC, I got straigh As. All I had to do was apply myself. But this was not the case at UCLA. The level was totally different. I would study my brains out but I couldn’t get an A, even if I bought one. So I set out to “re”-master my Japanese. I started out at intermediate J, then moved up to advnaced. I took classical, and a number of lit classes. I soon found myself really enjoying myself. My grades steadily improved and I was getting a handle on Japanese. I soon thought about actually doing something with Japanese. But the career options most people suggested were rather pathetic: travel agent, Japanese bank, ugh. If I wanted to do something worthwhile with Japanese, I would probably have to go to grad school. And after two years, I got into the MA program at UCLA.
As a grad student, we took seminars mostly on J-lit, and it was then that I got turned onto classical poetry. Man was it good. The Japanese loved to contextualize their poetry, going as far as intertextualizing them. It is very particapatory. The “meaning” of any poem is based on what you, the reader, want ot make it. These guys were post-modern in premodern Japan. I was hooked. But what profession would allow me to incorporate both my Japanese and my interest in classical poetry? Well that’s when I decided that I should… huh? Oh yeah…
HEY, EKIN! You still there on the line?
That’s when I decided that I’d like to become a professor, and a Japanese professor at that! Yeah, I thought this was perfect. I thought that I could somehow pass on the kindness and generosity of Prof. V. Perez to future generations of students by becoming a college professor, one who would be supportive, positive and encouraging. Unfortunately, an MA is not enough to teach at a college. I needed a Ph.D. I talked to the professor who turned me on to classical poetry, and he told me very bluntly:
Leave UCLA. Don’t apply here. We will not admit you.
Gulp! Was it something I said? My grades in the program were decent (3.5 gpa). Why not? I asked. Well, it was pretty straight forward. According to Prof. BL, I had already gotten my BA and MA here. It was time to learn new things from new people. That is the only way to grow. Not knowing where to go, I asked where i should apply, but all he would tell me is that it was my choice. There are very few schools with Ph.D. programs in Japanese to begin with so I should do my own research. So I did.
Now, there were more than a few schools that I think I could have gotten into relatively easily, but I had become a bit fatalistic (for reasons I may write about someday). I figured that if my career choice was meant to be, then it wouldn’t matter where I applied, I would get in. So I decided to stay in-state and chose two schools that had incredibly high standards: UC Berkeley and Stanford. My friends thought that I was nuts, that this was… *pause for effect* Hmmm?!? Oh yeah….
Hey, SweetLilV, you still listening? Here’s your answer
…This is the craziest thing I could do. If you really want to get a Ph.D. shouldn’t you have another school, a safe school, just in case? Not me. If I get in, I get in. Put it on the line. Go for broke. If you want something, aim high. Don’t settle for second best. I spent hours going over my application, statement of purpose, sample writings. I visited the two schools to demonstrate my interest. The professor I met at Berkeley was very enthusiastic. He did everything except told me that they’d accept me. I was amazed. I felt really good. The prof I met at Stanford was very cautious. Well, the competition is very stiff. You did apply to other schools, didn’t you? Wow, I was disappointed by the reception, but I thought, No sweat, UCBerkely, here I come… Until I got the thin envelope from the admissions office at Berkeley.
We had a number of excellent applicants this year including you, but we regret to inform you…
I was crestfallen. If Berkeley was a no-go, what was I going to do. So I decided to think of other options. What am I going to do with an MA. I did all my thinking with a bottle of scotch, Cutty for me. I finally talked to Prof. BL again, and told him of my failure. He asked me if Stanford had sent a letter yet. No, not yet, but the reception I got… But he waved me off before I could finish. He assured me that a non-response could be a good sign, that I could be on their short list.
Of course, being the stupid idiot that I am, I had never considered this possibility. But still, I could not forget my earlier meeting… Well, as most of you know, I did get into Stanford where I studied my brains out, wrote my dissertation on a medieval Buddhist monk and priest (300 pages) and got a job teaching on my first try on the job market.
I have been pretty blessed. But this might not have happened if I didn’t go for broke…
O-man: So aim high. Strive all the time, and chances are you will be rewarded. I have been, at least. Of course, this doesn’t mean to aim high and hope for the best. It DOES require total dedication and hard work. FYI, for those of you in college, I always put in a minimum of 2 hours per credit/unit hour of class per week. that means if I was in a 3 credit/unit course, I studied a minimum of six hours outside of class. 12 credit units equal 24 hours, so that’s 36 hours of guaranteed studying. I guess that’s why they call it being a full-time student. This is what I expect of my students as well, which is why some scream bloody murder at the amount of work I throw at them. “You have no idea how much I study for your class” is a typical lament in my class. But I usually just smile and tell them to keep it up, because I know it’s supposed to be hard. Isn’t that what Karl Malone has been saying as he’s trying to get a championship ring with the Lakers. Anything worth having takes grit and effort and hard work? At the very least it elevates the satisfaction level, and diminishes any possibility of regret by knowing you tried your best. Anyway, that is what I expect of my students–hard work–but I support and encourage them wherever I can. Although I don’t know if I’m always successful in conveying the generosity that Prof. Pereze extended to me, I try. So did you all get your answers?
SleepingCutie: Another question: When do classes start again? *hint hint, nudge nudge*
O-man: Shush! Not here!
More to come as I count down to June 15…