▲ Andres Colubri settling in at Jeju National University. Photo by Jenie Hahn
“Jeju is the antipode and furthest possible point from Argentina,” said Andres Colubri, like a true mathematician that he is. He added with a slight Latin accent, “Everything feels like an adventure here in Jeju. Adventurous in the sense that everything is new.” Originally hailing from La Plata, Argentina, Colubri is the newest professor on the coveted tenure track at Jeju National University. Based in the Life Sciences Department, he is only the second foreigner eligible for tenure, following Dale King from Sweden in the Veterinary Science Department.
Colubri describes his education as “heterogeneous” and the description seems apt when one looks at his impressive resume. He obtained a PhD in mathematics in his home country at the Universidad Nacional del Sur, and then earned a Post Doctorate in computational biology at the University of Chicago. He also obtained a master’s degree in digital arts at UCLA in California, which he completed in 2009. Between studying, from 2006 to 2007, he returned to Argentina and freelanced as a computer artist. As part of this, he created digital backdrops for theater performances.
With so much higher education, you might expect Colubri to be academically condescending and aloof. In person, however, he is very approachable with an engaging smile and has a fresh eager manner not unlike that of a college freshman. Now he has been on Jeju for about six weeks, the things he most wants to do are to learn Korean and buy a bicycle.
Asked how he came to settle so far away from family and friends, he said that his family was used to his nomadic ways. “My friends thought it was an adventure. I like nature a lot and all this sounded like quite an amazing thing. Now that I am here, I really like the air. It’s dramatically different.”
His original goal had been to find a job in Seoul and he had not even heard of Jeju until another Italian mathematician attended a conference here and reported that Jeju was “beautiful.”
Colubri contacted a Korean friend he had made while at UCLA, who directed him to the Web site hibrain.net, where teaching positions in higher education are advertised. Most of the job postings were in Korean so Colubri enlisted the help of his Korean friend again, who was now living in Seoul, and she promised to let him know if anything suitable was advertised.
The friend followed through and let him know about an opening last year and Colubri e-mailed Prof. Kim So Mi of JNU’s Life Science Department in November. He said he hadn’t expected to hear back but things happened quickly. He had a first interview via Skype and thought that went well. He was invited to Jeju for a face-to-face interview in December, gave a demonstration lecture, met the university president and was offered the job.
Colubri said he hasn’t felt homesick because he has been here a relatively short time but he feels that he will settle here comfortably. He currently lives in faculty housing, which is a small studio apartment on campus that he said is “a good start,” but said he might get a bigger apartment in the future.
Like most of his students, he has a T-Card (a pre-paid transportation card) to get around the island. He cooks dinner at home and jogs around the campus but feels that maybe his home is too close to work, despite the convenience.
He is thankful to Prof. Kim who helped him to get the job and is also his mentor at the university. The pair plans to collaborate on future research, with Kim doing the lab experiments and Colubri the computer modeling.
He hesitated when asked if he would stay in Jeju permanently but said he will be here for some time at least.
“Everyone here is very helpful,” he said. “The way things work here - in terms of organization - is more like U.S.A. than in Argentina.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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