Membership Training (MT)
The first time a student asked if I had heard about “Emtee” I was baffled. What was this odd sounding Korean word? But “MT” is a student and corporate employee tradition that mixes bonding exercises, motivational talks and late night drinking. In some cases the drinking has overshadowed the rest of the point, so much so that Pyeongtaek University actually discontinued MT this year. So I approached our unofficial “department seminar” this past weekend with excitement and trepidation.
What struck me first and foremost was that this retreat was organized by and for the students. They chose the date, raised the money, hired the bus, rented the retreat center, organized all the activities, designated leaders for every conceivable purpose, and mostly remembered to keep the faculty informed of the plan. We were honored guests.
Second, I was struck by the amazing graciousness of the students, because we were guests. When other students failed to show up on time, at least 20 students apologized to me for our late departure. When we arrived, a student leader tried to keep everyone on the bus for 10 minutes waiting for a car to come drive me up the steep 300 yards to the retreat center. (After two hours on the bus, I was grateful to walk, though it took some careful wording to make this clear to the student). I never lacked for a cup of water or a student willing to translate. To be fair, I did only get 3 days notice that they needed me to give a 20 minute lecture - and one faculty member got 10 minutes notice!
What did we do? We sat in groups, chose team titles, and created banners. We drew portraits of people in our group, gave them nicknames (mine was “Grace Woman”), and interviewed them so we could introduce them to others. The students played bonding games and held competitions. My favorite was “Guess which student is eating a wasabi sandwich and which is just faking it.” Late in the evening people floated from group to group, this one playing drinking games, that one debating soccer teams, another talking about their English linguistics homework due tomorrow. Students cooked ramen noodles, kimchee stew and other traditional student foods at 11 pm and most stayed up until 3. I conked out at 2.
I did give my lecture. I used my engagement ring as a material object through which we could study international trade, American culture, migration, oral history, and personal biography. My point was the interdisciplinary nature of American Studies, and the power of curiosity and background knowledge. The American Studies program here tries to give students the latter. If they bring a willingness to ask questions, ordinary objects are windows to the world.
At 11 pm, I was suddenly informed it was time for me to sing. Had anybody mentioned this earlier? Billy Joel to the rescue! I belted out his “Uptown Girl,” which amazingly almost every student knew. Nothing makes you feel like a rock star like 70 screaming, cheering, singing, dancing students egging you on. I also helped to judge the Miss Santa Maria contest. By tradition, each group dressed up one freshman male in women’s clothing. The men then competed in song and dance routines. You have not lived until you have seen your male students in jury-rigged miniskirts doing a pole dance - with an elderly coat rack.
MT required only two things of me - partial surrender of control and temporary suspension of cultural judgment. That pretty much defines my experience of Korea. Taking risks, trying new things, and postponing judgment have given me space to have experiences I never would have thought to try. Supportive students and colleagues have made that process feel safe. This weekend, I was surprised to discover I really am a valued “member” of the team. It is an honor, though it makes the reality of leaving even more bittersweet.
(There are more pictures in the MT set at http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/sets/72157604409909881/ . I will add more as I get them from the students. Hopefully no one took any photographs of me singing!)
1 comment April 7, 2008