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Greetings from Philip

Hello Friends & Family:

Out of Quarantine

All’s going great in Korea.

I’m certainly delighted that our quarantine period is over. If it was a test to see whether Amy and I would make it to our 30th year of marriage, I’m pleased to announce that we didn’t even have one squabble. Truth be told, she couldn’t complain that I forgot to take out the garbage because we weren’t allowed to leave the apartment for 14 days.

Here’s a photo of me looking out the window on Day 10. That was an especially tough day. Amy said I was mumbling to myself – something about seeing bagels, onion rolls, and giant potato knishes as I stared out the window.

Counting Down the Days

Everything is an adventure

My sister Laura asked me how I’m spending my free time. It’s hard to explain how long it take us to do everything.

In quarantine, I spent an entire night trying to order groceries, online. I couldn’t figure out how to get any meat or pasta or fruit, but I was really proud when I figured out how to order an assortment of vegetables. Two days later, the box of vegetables finally arrived. It wasn’t exactly what I hoped for. No carrots, tomatoes, or sweet potatoes. Just a big box with about 5 pounds of broccoli. Oh well. Fortunately, we figured out how to order take-out food from local Korean restaurants. Otherwise, that 30 year anniversary would have been in real jeopardy.

I spent an afternoon at a bank trying to open up an account. And then I had to go back the next morning to finish all the paperwork. Since all the forms were in Korean, I have no idea what I signed. Hopefully, I didn’t give up my first born (Sorry, Cynthia).

Everything is fascinating but time consuming -- from figuring out how to print a document and ride the subway to doing laundry and buying (and then using) a rice cooker.

Amy trying to pick up a rather large bag of rice at the local grocery store.

Amy making the perfect rice


I really enjoy teaching the students at Sogang University. It’s a prestigious school and all of my students are super sharp, engaged, and curious. Not surprising since they got into Sogang by studying from 8 AM until midnight in high school. They went to privately run after-school learning programs after their regular school days. In class, they’ve been asking thoughtful questions about how a multi-cultural society thrives (and doesn’t thrive) and why our behavior appears to be so irrational (U.S. gun laws for example).

I have teaching assistants for my classes. They’ve been a life saver – helping me understand how to use the library, get the class roster, post materials online, etc.

I don’t like giving students lots of materials to memorize. But I am challenging them – by assigning team projects, having them solve local public policy problems, and finding and interviewing American elected officials. I’d be delighted if they are learning as much from me as I learn from them.

It’s certainly odd that I have traveled nearly 7,000 miles to get here -- over the Arctic, Siberia, and China -- to sit in my apartment and teach online. At least, I get to see the students without their masks. And, I would have hated having some students in the classroom while others were online.


Amy and I are both so appreciative how safe Seoul is. My litmus test for safety has always been whether you see young women walking on the sidewalks by themselves. Here in Seoul, they’re walking down brightly lit streets as well as dark alleys -- day and night. Stores, we’ve noticed, leave their doors wide open. When I went back to a restaurant after I had accidently left my credit card on the table, the cashier just handed me a stack of credit cards and told me to take mine.

I decided not to buy a printer because there’s a 24/7 print shop near our apartment. It doesn’t have any employees in the store. I just go to one of the printers, put in a flash drive, and swipe my credit card. And, there is a stapler that hasn’t been swiped.

I’ve been thinking about the costs associated with security, violence, and theft in the U.S.

In Seoul, stores don’t need guards and they keep their doors wide open. They don’t need to add to the costs of goods because of rampant shoplifting. Korea doesn’t have to burden its taxpayers for the expenses associated with people jumping over subway turnstiles and spray painting subway walls. And, they don’t have to spend a fortune locking up millions of people.

Talking about the subways -- not many New Yorkers know which of the MTA's stations have public toilets and I don’t know many people who would even feel comfortable using one of them. Here in Seoul, subway stations have both clean toilets and wonderful bakeries. In New York, the stations smell like toilets. In Seoul, they smell like waffles, donuts, and red bean buns.

Below Ground

My Local Printer

Last Words

Not everything is so great, though. We haven’t seen a blue sky in months. We had to buy an air purifier because the air quality is awful. And, I would really like to take off my mask while picnicking in a park, but the COVID mask rules are strictly enforced.

And, here’s a final photo. Some things I just don’t understand. Like why Seoul gas stations look like pit stops at the Indianapolis Speedway.

Go figure.

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Mar 31, 2021

Hi Phil and Amy. I'm glad the two of you seem to be adjusting so well. I was particularly interested in your reflections on "professoring". I'd love to hear more. I am also fascinated by the comments from both of you on how Seoul is dealing with Covid. What a contrast to the messy situation here.

Stay well and have fun.



Mar 29, 2021

Great to hear from you Phil (and from Amy). As you know, Axel taught at a boy's high school fin South Korea or a year, and he told me how intense it was for the kids. The better the kids did in school, the more work they were given, often coming back at night to continue studying. Very intense. He loved being there, though, and developed some great relationships. Keep up the blogs!


Colleen Swanzey
Colleen Swanzey
Mar 26, 2021

Martin and I are loving the updates. Definitely getting a sense of what it's like over there. Looking forward to the next entry!


Yasmin Bendror
Yasmin Bendror
Mar 26, 2021

Love this. David and I read it together and had a good laugh. So happy you're still married ;-) What about the North Korean missiles launched yesterday. Is that scary??? Is there any coverage there about North Korea?


Randi Asher
Randi Asher
Mar 25, 2021

Phil, It's great to hear you are settling in and your marriage is surviving this major transition. We at home had no doubts! So glad you are enjoying the students. Keep us posted.

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