How far have you ever traveled to take a job? Many of us gulp at the thought of moving just a few hundred miles from a familiar place. But others dream in thousand-mile increments. One very successful example is CCAD alumnus Christopher Maslon (Fine Arts, 1996), who has spent most of the last decade working as an expatriate high school teacher, then college professor, in South Korea. (Columbus to Daejeon? It’s 6,818 miles.)
“Living and working in Korea has been the greatest time of my life,” Maslon says. “I absolutely love my job, I’ve written and published two books, and I’ve also had time to create and sell art—printmaking, papermaking, and photography.”
Not to mention his frequent travel, which might be fairly called an obsession now that he’s visited his 43rd country. “My next will be either Fiji or Mongolia,” he says.
Maslon is, in his own words, “mind-bendingly busy,” but he’s certainly not slowing down. Last spring, he was named the newest member of the Executive Liberal Arts Board of Daejeon Health and Sciences College (DHSC), the college where he teaches. He says, “Now I have the opportunity to shape the future face of a college with an enrollment nearly equal to the total population of my hometown. My mother often told me, ‘The future is wide open—anything can happen,’ and how right she was.”
Given that CCAD students are now looking at a job market that is global, rather than regional, we knew how valuable it would be to find out more about Maslon’s experiences. So we sat down—albeit at our own computers on opposite ends of the world—for a chat about his life and career.
IMAGE: What is the impact of having a US citizen on the board of a Korean college? What are your plans?
CM: It is quite unheard of for someone with foreign views and ideas outside the Korean mainstream to hold this type of post. I feel blessed and utilized by the staff of DHSC and respected for my ideas and input.
The college is expanding rapidly. My role is to create new courses in art and design, including color study, printing, papermaking, and silkscreen, and to open a new, state-of-the-art exhibition gallery.
Because my employers know I have an art degree, they will knock at my door and say, “This is our design, [or] we got this logo, [or] we paid a lot for this to be made…but what does Mr. Christopher say about it?” I go into this CCAD-trance of explaining, critiquing, and re-correcting every time I’m asked my opinion.
IMAGE: How did you end up in Korea?
CM: After CCAD, I was earning an MFA from Ohio State University. I lived near campus, and there were seven Korean families—all professionals who worked at OSU—living on my street. They shared many wonderful stories. In November 1999 I had the chance to make my first trip to Korea with a good friend who had found cheap tickets online.
Then, in January of 2002, my Korean friend Dr. Joseph Lee emailed, saying that he had a friend in Korea, Isaac Kim, who was a high school vice principal and needed a teacher. I deleted the email but suffered for three days because I kept thinking about it. I finally picked up the phone and said, “Joseph, what did you email me?” His wife asked him who was on the phone. He said, “It’s Christopher.” And his wife started yelling in the background, “He’s the one, he’s the one!” They had been praying for a person to contact them, and I was the only person out of the hundred or so emails he sent who called and inquired. After hearing the details, I accepted the offer, and in less than one month I was packed and had signed a one-year contract with Dong Ah High School.
I thought that on the final day of my contract I would run to the airplane and get home to the USA as soon as possible. But nine years later, I’m married to a wonderful Korean woman, with a beautiful five-year-old daughter—still here and loving it.
IMAGE: Any big cultural differences?
CM: Yes. The cultural differences are massive. Our American ways of working, greeting each other, shopping, eating, having relationships, equality between people, equality between men and women are all different [than the Korean].
IMAGE: What has been hardest to get used to?
CM: Language barriers, misunderstandings, and cultural flubs. Since I speak Korean, a lot of language barriers have disappeared as my skill level has increased. But even now I suffer from misunderstandings and times when I can’t say exactly what I want to.
Also, in Korea, hierarchy plays a major role in society. Your bosses at your workplace are your superiors, and you don’t question them like we do in the West.
Another thing is that space boxes do not exist here. This means touching other people without saying sorry is completely appropriate. It’s not uncommon to be in an elevator with 17 to 20 people, or for another person to be standing so close to you that you can feel their breath on your neck.
IMAGE: Any advice to CCAD students and alumni who might be considering overseas employment?
CM: Absolutely. Get your act together. Do your homework first about where you might seek employment—learn as much as you possibly can about that country before you go. You will need to get an up-to-date passport. You will also need a resume that shows who you are for real. People overseas are counting on you to be who you say you are and deliver. Remember, you are becoming an ambassador and representative of your country, your school, and your knowledge. Also remember you are stepping into someone else’s world. This is not your home. Your ways and their ways are different.
CCAD is an excellent school that prepares us for many challenges. I would like for CCAD students to step forth, do their homework, get their passport, and fly. The sky is the limit, and the future is wide open for all of us.
Published in print twice a year, CCAD’s IMAGE magazine shares stories about our creative community, whether here in Columbus or around the world—what we’re doing, thinking, and planning next. The IMAGE blog brings those stories online for transmission at the click of a mouse.