Sunday, November 6, 2011


 or, "How My Master's Thesis Ruined My Life."

Many of you know that both Rebecca and I had finished the coursework for our respective MAs before we left the US for Korea. We both had also made significant headway on our theses before we shipped out - Rebecca had turned in a full draft of hers, and I had defended my prospectus and been given the green light to finish my analysis (which should have been the easy part). We got on the plane with laptops and backpacks full of data, and plans to finish up and defend in the summer. 

Once we got here, all that changed. We had new jobs to figure out, new foods to try, a new city to explore, and a new language to learn. We left the frozen wastes of Wyoming while it was still wintery and arrived here in time for the full bloom of spring, the season that many consider the most beautiful in Jeonju. We just couldn't sit in front of computers everyday while everything was green and flowering outside. Slowly, we let go of our summer graduation plans, and set our sights on December. 

We established a schedule that called for us to rise each day at 8:00AM and dedicate hours to our theses before working out, showering, and heading in to work at 2:00PM. This meant returning home after work and basically heading straight to bed, which is completely counter to my natural rythms. We were quite dedicated to this schedule for a time, but then we met and befriended other ex-pats in Jeonju, and like us, they got off work late in the evening. Going out for dinner with friends until 1:30AM makes it hard to get up at 8:00AM and generate quality academic writing.

Local friendships led to us becoming more active in the Jeonju internet communitites, which led to volunteering at orphanages, a Dinner in English group, and the final straw - taking a Korean class at Chonbuk University. The class met daily, and moved quite quickly. Eventually, trying to keep up with the new grammar and vocabulary was taking up all of my spare time. Everything else fell off (including posting to this blog), and soon I realized that three weeks had passed without me even looking at my thesis. 

My thesis glares at me from a dark corner of my mind constantly, like an ugly and unloved doll on a dusty shelf. I know that I should fix it up and get it ready to present, but there is always something newer and shinier clamoring for my atention. In the light of my new suroundings and new interests it seems ill-concieved, trivial, unneeded, and broken somehow. Yes - my thesis now lives on the Island of Misfit Toys, and my intended graduation date has slipped away to next May.

Although I have embraced every distraction that has come my way, I have finally realized that my unfinished thesis is sucking all the joy from my life. In my college career I never failed to turn in a paper and I never took an incomplete, so the thesis dragging on feels like a huge failure. I have reached the point where every moment of free time that I spend doing anything else, no matter how important or valid it is, is tainted because the thesis is not done. Everything - volunteering, movies, shopping, hiking, clubbing, literally everything we do for fun - reminds me that I have the debt from a Master's degree, but not the diploma. It is beginning to keep me from sleeping - I have dreams in which I face a committee that demands my paper, but there is nothing in my folder but old bus tickets and empty gimbap wrappers. This must end.

I have several friends who participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) every year. They crank out around fifty or sixty thousand words in 30 days each November. I don't need anywhere near 50K - I'm just about thirty pages from done. Another form of inspiration comes from Jillian Venters of Gothic Charm School (she is inspirational in so many way) who has declared this to be her "Finish the Damn Novel Month." So, to keep myself from descending any further into this pleasureless spiral of avoidance and annoyance, I have declared November to be "Finish My Master's Thesis Month." We shall call it "FiMyMaTheMo."

I am done with Korean class and I am returning to a strict schedule of writing 5 days per week. I will allow myself to play on the weekends only if I have put in the time Monday through Friday. Let this serve as notice to my friends - I will be turning down any new social engagements during the week and staying in my cell until it is done (I am still having midnight pancakes this Tuesday with the cool kids from Junghwasan-Dong because it is already on the calendar - but after that I'm like a nun).

This should allow me to finish the damn thing by December 1st. I will not be able to put together a defense before the university goes on Winter break, but I should be able to corral my committee sometime in January or February. Hopefully by my birthday in March it will all be just an awkward memory.

After that, I will be free again. Food and friends will be guiltless again, and I will enjoy the sleep of the righteous (or at least the sleep of the exhausted teacher, which I heartily deserve). The writing project that Rebecca and I have been discussing can get underway, and perhaps I will finally have time to sign up for Taekwondo or Hapkido classes like I had planned when we first got these jobs. 

Wish me luck, and don't invite me to anything cool for a while...