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How I Became A Question On A Final Exam

I’ve finally made it into academia.

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A few weeks ago I was in South Korea attending a summit of the New Cities Foundation — filming a short documentary and doing some Forbes reporting. As a part of this work I found myself at this big outdoor get together of government officials, developers, and others who are active in the the new city movement — or who are active in documenting it. I was walking around doing my thing. I just had a talk with the mayor of Incheon, who I had interviewed earlier in the day, and he poked a little fun of the big backpack I was hauling around –“Are you going to go climb a mountain?” — and was in pursuit of my next target for a potentially interesting or otherwise beneficial stop and chat. 

Then suddenly this gaggle of young women came running up to me. 

“You were a question on my final exam!” one of them exclaimed. 

The others excitedly concurred. 

What the fuck? I was a question on your final exam?

“Yes. We study urban development at McGill University.”

They were clearly the students of Sarah Moser. 

Sarah Moser is without question one of the foremost authorities in the world on the new city building movement. Our beats align perfectly, and our methods run parallel as well: boots on the ground, make friends, ask questions. There is no other way to learn anything about this topic. 

We’ve been talking with each other for years, but have yet to intersect AFK. I thought we were going to have that chance in South Korea, but Sarah got diverted right before landing. 

Her students made it though. They were rather passionate about new cities — galvanized, perhaps. Their professor was one of the people who made new cities a thing — assembled them under a blanket definition and brand, theoretically linking them together, giving them a sort of a mutual identity. 

Colassal new cities are rising all over Asia and Africa right now, and their purposes and trajectories are remarkably similar. 

Sarah has her students read a chapters of Ghost Cities and watch some of my YouTube videos. That’s how I ended up on the final exam. 

Here were some of her students’ responses:

I particularly like the one who answered “I don’t recall a Wade Shepard.”


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Filed under: Journalism, New Cities, South Korea, Travel Diary

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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