A LIFE STORY by Nataliya Chesnokova

I am 25 years old, and a PhD student at Russian State University for the Humanities. In Russia, a PhD student should get teaching practice, so since 2012 I have been teaching Korean History and the History of Russian Koreanistics (it has a long and interesting history, by the way!). I cannot say I am talented but I am stubborn, and people often call me “a tank in a skirt.”

Since I started teaching, I wanted my students to participate in conferences and workshops here in Moscow but it turned out to be difficult due to the lack of such activities. I saw enthusiasm in the eyes of my students and felt the necessity of speech practice and scientific communication, so I decided to organize a student workshop by myself. My goal was to organize a Korean studies workshop which could be both useful and comfortable for students to participate in. The ideal workshop in my mind was a combination of an informal meeting along with advice from famous scholars.

At first everything went quite well. Korea Foundation kindly agreed to be our sponsor, and I was very proud of that. But then, when I tried to find out how to print out brochures with the participants’ reports I met the first and hardest obstacle: paperwork… Pfff! I had no clue that I need to write tons of papers in which I ask, explain, insist, undertake and promise. What was the most stressful was that I had no idea where to start or who to ask for help. I felt like a kid standing in the middle of nowhere. Terra incognita, no map, no road, millions of questions without answers – that was the entire luggage I had.

So soon I had to face the situation – no one could help me because organizing a workshop in two months before the actual date seemed to be impossible. But I am a “tank in a skirt” after all, so I did not give up my dream or my goal. By chance I met a woman who answered, “Sure, why not?” to my question, “Is it possible to organize a workshop in two months?” Those two months before the workshop were really stressful. I had to calculate the budget, order meals, book an auditorium, video and sound equipment, draw a picture for a banner and then order the banner, invite guests, make programs, and so on. As my colleagues said, “It was a start from minus one.” Right now I cannot remember every step I had to take. It seems they were all taken together and at once. But certainly, the first thing I had to accomplish was the paperwork.

Believe me, I hate paperwork, and still I had to rewrite tons of documents again and again until every paper was signed and taken. I kept telling myself that I was planning a good thing and it was worth doing all this crazy mess and so I went on. There was no free suitable auditorium on the date I wanted to hold the workshop, so I had to move it to the 25th of May 2013, Saturday. I booked the room and the needed equipment, placed advertisement on different websites, called and emailed Korean studies students and lecturers. As soon as I understood that approximately 40-50 people would take part in the workshop, I ordered meals and booked tables in our university cafeteria. Then I made programs of the workshop and the brochures with the participants’ reports. The woman who had said, “Sure, why not?” helped me to get the programs and brochures done without any cost, along with some souvenirs with the RSUH logo to give to the participants. The hardest part was the banner because I cannot draw at all. If I draw a mouse it looks like a tiger, and a tiger looks like a table. Yes, it is pathetic. Two evenings later I managed to draw something more or less pretty and suitable for the banner. Then I emailed the picture to several companies comparing their prices and finally agreed to order from one of them.

On the 25th of May I was the most nervous person in the whole world. Or at least the most nervous girl in Moscow.

And still it was a success. Not a success to be written in huge letters, but still it was an achievement. There were 16 spokespersons, one open lecture and more than 50 guests from different universities that came to hear the reports. One spokesperson even came from Saint-Petersburg to participate in the workshop! Two of my students also made reports. I was happy enjoying the moment when a new-born baby – the workshop – finally opened its eyes and breathed fresh air. It was alive.

Meals, water and papers – everything was as much as it was needed. My students, friends and colleagues came to help and to listen to the reports too. They helped a lot, and I do not know how I would have been able to control the workshop process without them. But what was even more important was belief. My older and younger colleagues, the Korea Foundation, friends, students and even unknown guests came to support “the First Workshop of the Korean Studies at Russian State University for the Humanities,” as I named it. They believed in me and with this belief I was able to believe in myself as well.

This year, in 2014, I organized the 2nd workshop and it was much easier. Next year I am going to do a workshop for students not only from Moscow and Saint-Petersburg but from Novosibirsk too. Seeing and listening to students speak more and more freely and confidently I am proud both of them and myself. They are able to get a piece of advice from famous lecturers, demonstrate their research, rehearse their speech, and present without any fear. My aim is to make this process comfortable.

If sometimes when I am stressed I think that no one needs what I am doing, I remember the shining eyes of my students who are presenting their papers in front of an audience and who are catching every word that I am saying. It gives me strength.


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