Why I went: I was studying the Japanese language at UB and translating the autobiography of a famous Japanese boxer. So I got the idea that I wanted to live there. I was awarded the Monbukagakusho Scholarship, which made it possible.
In Japanese gyms: For my dissertation at UB, I collected the life stories of boxers. I had trained with and interviewed boxers in Buffalo and Brooklyn, and began doing the same in Japan. I found it very interesting to compare Japanese and American boxers, to find out how they found meaning in their lives through boxing.
In America, it was easy to get boxers to tell me their stories, even if I didn’t know them. But in Japan, it was harder. Over there, a gym is like a club or family — when you go to the gym, you join it and belong to it for your whole career. Boxers rarely change gyms. To gain access to the stories, I had to join the family, so I spent a lot of time at the gym. After some years, I became a trainer and, eventually, a judge.
A long time away: I liked being in another world, another culture. I found it inspiring and exciting — I had never lived in another country or gotten around in another language.
I ended up staying for seven years, earning a degree from Kobe University before returning to UB.
Back to Asia: After I graduated from UB, I looked for jobs in Asia as well as America, which I probably would not have done if I hadn’t studied abroad. I received an offer from Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, and have been teaching there ever since.
What I’m doing now: I teach creative writing, literature and film at Yonsei University’s Underwood International College.
Dream Writing: Three years ago I advised a student who wrote his thesis on birth dreams, or taemong. These occur when someone has a dream foretelling the birth of a child. Birth dreams are important in Korea; almost everyone has one. This reawakened a lifelong interest I had in dreams, so I started reading more about it. As a result, I recently started teaching a class called “Dream Writing.”