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Pursuing a Career Consonant with Literary Pursuits

Dear Dr. Arguelles,

Greetings! My name is Evan Kramer. I am an American currently living in Russia studying for a masters degree in Classical Languages and Patristic Literature at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University in Moscow. I would like to start off thanking you for your contribution to field of language learning; I myself have benefited a great deal from your many posts on various forums, your websites, as well as from your videos on YouTube.

Let me begin by giving you my background in language learning and also my relevant career goals. At present beside I know the following languages at the indicated levels:

1. English – native
2. Russian – full fluency
3. Old Church Slavonic – reading competency
4. Latin – advanced reading competency and also reasonable competence in speaking, although my speaking skills have atrophied from being in Russia and having less opportunity to speak. This is my strongest of classical languages; certain genres of texts I can sight read at a really good clip.
5. Modern Greek – intermediate speaking competence. Upper-intermediate reading ability.
6. Ancient Greek – upper-intermediate reading competence.
7. French – reading competence for research; articles and books of an academic nature are pretty easy to read.
8. German – intermediate competence for research. This is my weakest language. With liberal use of a dictionary, I can make my way through some texts of interest to me; but German still requires a lot of attention.

Truth be told, I never intended on striving towards polyglottery. My main interests were in fact Philosophy and Theology. However, I very early on realized that pursuing original and fruitful research in any of those fields would require close philological attention to the source texts in the discipline. Given my research interests (Antique and Medieval Philosophy, Patristics, German Idealism, and 20th century religious Russian philosophy), I quite naturally gravitated towards studying the above listed languages.

Now I would like to ask your advice in connection with explaining to you my further plans. My tentative plan at present is to pursue a PhD in Philosophy at a top program. In an ideal world, I would then get a job in academia where I could pursue my philosophical and philological interests. However, I am painfully aware of the dismal job prospects that await a PhD graduate under present circumstances, regardless of competence or qualification. Be that as it may, I nevertheless nourish the hope of leading a life that provides me the requisite leisure for philological and philosophic pursuits.

It is at this point now that I would like to solicit your advice. I apologize ahead of time if the questions I am going to ask do not follow under the proper rubric of your Q&A; you are quite within your right not to respond to my message if that be the case, though I would be grateful without measure were you to you respond to me.

I am aware to some to degree about your own biography. As I understand, you got a PhD at the University of Chicago and afterwards began to move to various parts of the world where you were able somehow to find the means necessary to live while leading a life that furnished you with adequate time for literary pursuits.

My first question is what kind of work did you find in these countries that allowed you to maintain such a way of life? If my memory serves me, you at certain times even had appointments at foreign universities.

Is what you did in your lifetime still tenable today? If all goes well, I will have a master’s degree in Classical Philology and a PhD at a prestigious university in Philosophy. With such qualifications, is doing what you did possible?

It doesn’t necessarily have to be an academic appointment; my main fear is to invest all this time, get a PhD, and then to hit the end of the road, so it were, and be forced for pecuniary reasons to move on to a line of work of a non-literary nature, which due to the demands on my time means losing all the hard work I invested into language learning and scholarship in my youth. If necessary, I would be willing to work in the Americas, Europe, Middle East, or Asia. If one is willing to move to foreign countries outside of Europe and America, is finding an appointment in foreign universities easier?

Again, my apologies if the nature of my question isn’t suitable for your Q&A section. I suppose my question is really more about how to pursue a career that is conducive to polyglottery and literary pursuits in general, which is rendered ever the more difficult in an age almost exclusively preoccupied with material and economic concerns. If you could provide any relevant advice, I would be in your debt.


Evan J. Kramer

My reply:

Dear Evan J. Kramer,

Thank you for writing with a question that is not at all beyond the parameters of Q&A topics here, but rather fits directly in with them. I think many if not most of those really interested in the advice on my site will have at least contemplated an academic career; indeed, a large number of those participating in the offerings of the Academy are graduate students in various humanities fields. The academic life “abroad” from the perspective of American academics is the only academic life I know so it is hard for me to make comparisons with academic life in the U.S., but I am happy to share what I experienced if that will be helpful to others.

I did not just at certain times have appointments at foreign universities – professorships or other positions at foreign academic institutions are pretty much all I ever had. I was first at Handong University in South Korea (1996-2004), then at the American University of Science & Technology (AUST) in Beirut, Lebanon (2004-2006); then briefly in the U.S. at New College in San Francisco (2006-2009); then at the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO) Regional Language Centre (RELC) in Singapore (2009-2012), then at the American University in the Emirates (AUE) in Dubai, UAE (2012-2018), and finally Concordia Language Villages (CLV) of Concordia College, Moorhead, MN (2019-2021) before starting my own virtual academy online in 2022, which is what I do now and what I hope to do for the rest of my days.

I did have an unusual degree of freedom to pursue my own type of scholarship at Handong University. The Korean professors there wanted qualified foreigners on their faculty, but we were precluded from participating in academic governance. Most others found this intolerable and so soon left, but I reasoned that this provided me with much more time to pursue the path of the polyglot on my own, which is what I happily did. Do or could such possibilities exist today? I honestly do not know, but the kind of Ph.D. it sounds as if you will have may well open doors to you similar to the ones that my degree opened for me. Seek, and ye shall find.

You ask if finding appointments in foreign universities is easier than finding appointments in American universities (I presume). I do not feel able to answer that in a comparative sense as when I wished to be abroad, I looked abroad, and when I wished to be in the U.S., I looked in the U.S.. However, I can say that if you are willing to look to the whole world, that certainly opens many more opportunities to you. Except for during the recession of 2009 when all institutions in the U.S. had a freeze, I never found it difficult to find positions either in the U.S. or abroad, so I cannot say which is easier.

Do look abroad. As I wrote above, this will simply increase the number of positions anywhere for which you can apply. Furthermore, you may well find positions that will reward you for the specific American expertise you bring by virtue of being American. At AUE, for example, the former dean of my department is now the provost, and he is an American with a PH.D. in philosophy.

I wish you all the best in aiming for and achieving the kinds of positions that will enable you to engage in the kind of scholarship that you want to engage in. From the description of your skills and goals, I believe you would profit from and contribute to the offerings I have in my academy for reading German and/or conversing in Latin. Please do consider joining these if your circumstances permit.

With kind regards,

Alexander Arguelles

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Would you like my advice for developing a systematic, long-term plan for learning languages and accessing literatures? This website provides a place where you can describe your background, current activities, and goals in sufficient detail for me to provide you with meaningful advice, and where our exchange can remain as a lasting resource for others with similar scholarly aspirations.

My name is Alexander Arguelles. I have pursued foreign languages and literatures with a passion all my life. My goal is to share the knowledge and experience I have gained with others who would like to do the same. Find out more →

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