You Had Me at Helsinki

It has been about a week since I returned from my trip to Europe, during which I presented my research at two linguistics conferences. I wanted to write a short recap about the second of these conferences, but I had to hit the ground running in preparing for the summer course that I’m teaching, leaving me no time to collect my thoughts. Every day has been spent playing catch-up, wrestling with administrative snafus, and finalizing lesson plans with moments to spare… Really, this past week has been such a blur! But it’s finally Friday. Time to take a breather.

As I step out of my classroom here, I think back to the classrooms at the University of Helsinki, where I was both a “student” listening to other researchers discuss their work and a “teacher” as I presented my own work. One similarity that I did not really expect was the language background of my audience in both situations. About half of my summer course students are international; many are from various parts of China, and their English proficiency levels vary considerably. How does that relate to my conference talk attendees? Well, the conference in Helsinki was the biennial meeting of the International Circle of Korean Linguistics. It’s a conference for linguists who work on any aspect of Korean (or the Koreanic languages), so naturally the majority of the conference delegates are from Korea, with Korean as their first language. However, most of the conference talks were given in English.

I hadn’t taken this into consideration when I planned my presentation: it was twenty minutes for thirty slides, which means that I had to talk pretty quickly. I wondered why I got so few questions and comments at the end of my presentation, despite the sizable audience, until someone brought to my attention the hypothesis that perhaps I had spoken too quickly for most of my listeners to follow along well enough to come up with anything to say in response. Either that, or too few of them had enough experience with phonetics (the sub-field of linguistics that I specialize in).

At ISB, the bilingualism conference in Ireland, I got plenty of very good feedback, so I’m not too bummed about the ICKL talk. At the very least, my colleagues told me that my presentation was very well done, and that even if they didn’t have any questions, they were interested in the work I’m doing. Another net positive is that I got to connect with other young Korean scholars, as well as one big name in the field, and I was inspired by a few other talks to take my project in a new direction in preparation for my dissertation.

(A net negative was the realization that my conversational Korean fluency is very, very poor now, after years of not practicing. If I’m going to consider myself a specialist in Korean, I need to be able to speak the language better! And just because English is the lingua franca among academics doesn’t mean I have to rely solely on it to communicate.)

Anyway, it was nice to be in Helsinki at this time of the year, too. First of all, Finland is celebrating its 100th year of independence from Russia (Happy Birthday, Finland!). Part of the reason for having ICKL in Helsinki was to honor both Finland’s centennial and also a prominent Finnish linguist named Ramstedt who worked on Korean and other languages of the Altaic language family during the 20th century. Secondly, it being just after midsummer, the days were long and the sky was always a spectacular shade of blue. In addition, it was nice to see Pride flags everywhere since Helsinki Pride was the same week! (I was sorry to have missed the parade, since by then I was already back in the States.)


My dad came to Helsinki, too! He took some photos of me giving my presentation.

So now, after three weeks and six countries (plus one week to recharge), I have the rest of the summer left to tackle a fairly lengthy to-do list. I need to put in a lot more time until the syllabus for the sociolinguistics course I’m teaching is where I want it to be. At the same time, I need to get back into running experiments for two of my side projects, which is going to take a big chunk out of each week, time-wise. Lastly — and probably most importantly — I need to prepare my dissertation prospectus, which is sort of like a sample chapter of my dissertation, and discuss with my adviser if the idea I picked up at ICKL is a worthwhile one to pursue.

Then there’s the typical slew of academic administrivia: grant writing, abstract submissions, data analysis, plus the new specter that looms over rising fourth-years: practice job applications! That’s right: this fall I am going to pretend that I have marketable skills try to convince an institution of higher education to hire me to teach and do research independently. The odds are slim, but that’s why we do this “practice round” before things get real serious next year.


Word of the Day: An orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system. The name derives from the title of the Charles Boyle, Earl of Orrery, to whom an early clock-based model built by George Graham was dedicated. The title itself comes from Irish Gaelic Orbhraighe (or Orbraige, pronounced something like [ˈɔrvare] or “orvery”?), meaning ‘people of Orb’ and presumably referring to an old tribe. I spent three weeks at or above fifty-five degrees latitude, and as I watched the sun swing across the sky in a most unusual manner, it was cool to realize that I was really witnessing the effect of being in a different part of the same planet, rather than any change in the sun or earth’s positions themselves.


About Andrew C.

I'm a grad student at UC Berkeley.
This entry was posted in conference, school, summer, teaching and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to You Had Me at Helsinki

  1. Pingback: (Cheng, 2017) | [ə.bla.ɡə.baʊt̚.ɡɹæd.skʊɫ]

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