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Amanda Akers ’19: Seoul Connections

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Amanda Akers ’19 transferred to Antioch College as a third-year student and graduated in 2019 with a self-designed major focusing on Creative Writing. Shortly after graduating, Amanda was able to make her move to South Korea where she currently works as an English teacher while pursuing her own writing career.

Read our Q&A below to learn about Amanda’s path to Creative Writing and how she is able to find inspiration in familiar, everyday occurrences.

How did you become introduced to the art of writing? 

In my fourth grade English class, we were told to write sentences with the assigned vocabulary words–I wrote my first story. It was about a ferret, named Hershey, who had gone missing. Eraser marks covered the pages, the details were sloppy, but the spark I felt was decent. I’m the first in my family to really pursue publishing. But, they’re happy for me.

Do you have a favorite genre that you enjoy reading? Is that different from the genre that you write?

I’m picky. I normally read the opening page of a book I’m interested in, and if I’m not hooked, I move on. Genre doesn’t matter. All I’m looking for is a bit of jealousy. The feeling of wishing I could have written something similar swells my brain.

What inspires you to write?

Everyday magic. I like to look at something and push it beyond its limits. My flash piece “Heirlooms,” which was recently published in The Masters Review 2020 Flash Fiction contest, follows a woman who brushes her teeth with a homemade tomato seed toothpaste after a visit to the dentist. Going to the dentist is an ordinary thing. People do it all the time. I just took my own experience and made it weird.

Tell us about your Co-op experiences?

My first Co-op was focused on writing. Working with Beth Bridgeman, I stayed home and worked on the opening chapters of my novella “Astro/Saga” which became my senior project.

For my second (and final) Co-op, Richard Kraince, Beth, and Miwa Sensei worked very hard to prepare me for a summer in Japan. There, I was involved in the Kyoto Seika cultural immersion program before moving on to Aichi, Nagoya where I  studied Japanese at a language school for four more weeks. After my completion of the class, I spent the remainder of my time traveling between Osaka, Nara, and ending in Tokyo. My experiences during that co-op in particular mean the most to me. Without Antioch, I never would have been able to travel to one of my most favorite places in the world nor would I have met so many amazing people and learned all that I did. It is my favorite part of my Antioch experience.

How has the change of scenery (U.S. to South Korea) affected your writing? Do you write your stories with the U.S. in mind or do you find that you are drawing inspiration from your surroundings and writing more with the setting of South Korea? 

I think there’s a little of both. I write about things I’m somewhat familiar with. Back in Ohio, I never took the subway. Do they even have subways in Ohio? But here, in Seoul, I ride it multiple times a week, COVID depending. Writing about things that are relatable is pretty fun. Especially when I get to stretch them further. Seoul, Ohio; it doesn’t matter. As long as readers can find a familiarity in the strangeness, I’m happy.

Why did you choose to go to South Korea? 

I’ve had an interest in South Korea for a long time. For one, the food is amazing. Have you ever tried 찜닭 (jjimdak)? Stir-fried chicken, noodles, dumplings, rice cakes, swimming in spicy-sweet soy sauce and smothered with cheese: delicious!

I love the music and had K-pop playing in the background of my MySpace profile for who knows how long. Over the years, I’ve spent too much money, making the best memories, waiting outside for concerts with my sister.

Another reason would be the opportunity to be a part of the incredible growth Korea has been undergoing for only a short amount of time. Korea has been invaded, held captive, divided, and still continues to flourish. Now that I’m here, I get to be a part of that growth. Teaching my students English through my own personal experiences, introducing them to parts of my life and culture, is probably my favorite part of my day.

Have you experienced any culture shock? 

I don’t think so. I didn’t come to Seoul on a whim. Before I had chosen this route, I was already well-researched on life in Korea. Although my language skills are lacking, I still manage to get around and meet new people.

I have experienced so many things in Seoul. There are so many different lives here, doing just fine despite the year we’ve had. I’ve eaten South African lamb, made friends with the girl behind the counter at the Turkish bakery, and eaten too much makhani chicken (is that possible?). Although I cannot leave the country, I have been introduced to so many other parts of the world just in my neighborhood!