A Short Biography
Both of my parents were teachers. Of math
and physics, no less. A few months before I was born, they decided to move from Augsburg
to Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, to teach at a German school there. When we
returned to Germany I was almost 5, and I must have been fluent in Swedish,
though I hardly remember any of it. I do still have a soft spot for the Swedes.
We settled in Lindenberg, a small town of 10,000, in the foot hills of the Alps of South Germany, not far from the proud city of Lindau by Lake Constance. My maternal grandmother Gertrud Schmitt had lived there all her life, and so did her Schobloch ancestors for some centuries. My great-grandfather Jakob Schobloch played a prominent role in that town in the years following World War 1.
Lindenberg was a great place for me and my sisters Ulrike, Maria and Elisabeth, to grow up in. The environment was healthy, and the town was small enough that I could walk or bike to any place in town, but big enough to have a Gymnasium (an advanced high school), and many sports clubs. For years I participated in gymnastics, chess, tennis and team handball.
Near our house was a large wooded bog area that was a wonderful place to take walks in or, in winter, to cross-country ski. I am still so fond of it that I return any chance I get. My mother still lives there.
Upon graduation in 1979, I was drafted into the Bundeswehr like all German men at the time. A story I like to tell is how they did all that testing, called Musterung, including physical and mental checks. I remember doing well in the physicals, and in tech knowledge and getting a perfect score on some IQ-test. So they made me . .a . . truck driver. . . ! Aah, the German bureaucracy. Driving was one thing I was not good at, as I had no car at the time and zero driving experience. . .
Needless to say, I did not much like the military, and I applied to be a conscientious objector after 9 months. I was accepted, and I did the remaining 6 months of service time assisting handicapped adults in a sheltered work place. This experience was life-changing, as I discovered how rewarding it can be to teach and help other people even with the most humble of tasks. I realized then that I wanted to be a teacher.
I started college in nearby Konstanz. I chose math and physics because they were my best subjects. After two years I went to study abroad, at the University of Oregon. During spring break of that school year, I met my future wife, Heewon Chang. We were on a bus trip together, organized through the Office of International Studies. During a cultural evening organized for our host families, I heard her sing a Korean folk song in a dark-blue Korean han-bok, and I was smitten.
I applied for graduate studies then and was offered an assistantship, that eventually led to a PhD. My advisor was Dr Richard Koch, who I admire to this day for his tremendous skills of making deep mathematics simple and beautiful.
Heewon and I were married in 1986, and Hannah was born in July 1989, one week after my thesis defense. We moved to the East Coast to the suburbs of Philadelphia, where I started my work here at Villanova University in September 1989. Peter completed our family when he was born in June of 1991.
Faith: I try to lead a life of faith that is integral to
all I do, including my work.
My parents were of mixed confession, and the drama of their engagement is quite a story by itself. I ended up being baptized Roman Catholic, while my three sisters were baptized in the Lutheran church. Many a Sunday we ended up attending two services.
I still occasionally find the time to attend mass here at Villanova, but as a family we have been members of the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church for 25 years. My wife Heewon and I are both elders there. We also sing in the 80-voice senior choir
Politics: I grew up in Germany in a politically passionate family. My views were shaped by the lessons from Germany's Nazi past, the social upheaval of the '70s, as well as my understanding of the Christian faith. Of course, my life in the USA since 1982 has influenced me, as has the cultural experience of my wife's native Korea. I would consider myself a Christian Internationalist, if there is such a thing. My fervent hope is for peace and understanding among nations and religions, a responsible stewardship of the earth, and economic and moral justice in our society.
Music: I find music to be life-giving. When I listen to
Brahms' Requiem, or Schubert's Quintet in C, I hear a divine voice,
immeasurably comforting and loving.
I learned to play the piano, the flute and the pipe organ in my youth and music has accompanied me ever since. Now my children have mastered the violin (Hannah) and the cello (Peter) and playing a piano trio with them has to be one of the greatest joys of my life.