Interview with Alexandra Urbán
This is a continuation of an interview Ranka had with Alexandra when she played in the first World Mind Sports Games in Beijing six year ago. At that time she had interrupted her university studies in Hungary to study go at the International Baduk Academy in Korea. That interview ended with Ranka asking Alexandra what her future plans were. She said she wanted to get stronger at go, see how much progress she had made a year later, and then decide what to do next. What she eventually decided to do was to enroll as a graduate student in Korean literature at a Korean university. Studying Korean literary theory and writing a thesis in Korean left her little time to play go, so when she earned her degree and returned to Hungary, she was playing only at about the 1-dan level. Nevertheless, when a call went out on the Internet for someone to represent Hungary at the 2014 Korea Prime Minister Cup, she answered it.
Ranka: How did you get started playing go?
Alexandra: Actually I got started by accident when I was fifteen. I was looking around on Internet sites, I think Japanese-related sites, and I found this site about go and I got really interested in it. So I started to play on KGS and later looked for some Hungarian players, and that is how I started the game.
Ranka: And how did you come to pursue a graduate degree in Korean literature?
Alexandra: That actually developed from my interest in Korea. After I spent one and a half years in Korea I went back to Hungary and graduated from my university, and after that I went to one of these reading evenings. It was something like a reading circle. They were reading Korean writers’ short stories, and I really liked them. I really liked their atmosphere. They were very, like, harmonious. And so when I later applied for a scholarship to Korea, a governmental scholarship, I thought, I could study Korean literature in Korean, which is an asset, and I’m also kind of interested in Korean literature, so why not?
Ranka: Can you tell us about one Korean author that you particularly like?
Alexandra: Of course! To start with, I like female writers a lot, because in Hungary thare are not that many of them; it’s still mainly male writers that dominate the scene. One of the writers I like is Kong Ji-young. She’s quite famous and has a lot of works in translation. I particularly like her because I wrote my thesis about her. She’s one of the first female writers that got really famous. She writes about things in a very female way that I like very much.
Ranka: What does she write about?
Alexandra: Well, she writes about several things, but the short stories I particularly like from her are about making the transfer from the eighties, when Korea was still sort of a dictatorship, to the nineties when they finally became democratized. It became an inner struggle inside Korean people, especially Korean youth, university students. At one time in the eighties they thought that socialism was going to be the way to go, but at the end of the eighties a lot of Eastern European socialist states became democratic. So they had this whole world collapsing inside them. How were they to overcome the collapse?
Ranka: You now work as a translator. Have you translated any go books from Korean into Hungarian?
Alexandra: No, because the go population of Hungary is only about 100 to 150.
Ranka: What do you translate?
Alexandra: Well, right now I’m just starting out, so I’m trying to establish myself as a freelancer. So far I’ve mostly translated literature, and that’s what I’m most interested in. Much of my work has been proofreading translations by Koreans who are translating Hungarian literature into Korean: famous Hungarian writers or famous Hungarian historical books. I’ve also worked as an interpreter; I interpreted for a well-known writer when he was in Hungary. His name is Yi Mun-yeol and he’s very famous in Korea, so I was really happy to have that chance.
Ranka: We wish you good luck in your career.
Alexandra: Thank you.
– Photo: Ito Toshiko