Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get connected with English language teaching in Korea?
In April of 1998, I had decided NOT to go to Korea to teach for a year. In August of that same year, I reaffirmed my decision to my persistent high school friend that I would not accompany her to Korea. Three times the charm applies here. By her third invitation, I was singing a different tune.
Why? There was an FBI raid at the company I worked for in the U.S., and I did not stick around long enough to find out why. I stepped off the plane on January 4, 1999.
How long have you been here?
16 years. A one year contract easily turned into a second year. After that I thought another year would be fine. I kept resigning contracts each year because I was enjoying my life and my work so much.
What do you enjoy most about Korean culture?
Based on my preoccupation with fruit, it’s no wonder that one thing that I love about Korea is its food culture. Of course, much of the food is quite delicious and suits my palate well, but what I truly find fascinating is Koreans’ view of food as more than just something we put in our mouths to keep our stomachs from rumbling. Here, food is health. It’s medicine. It is pride, and it’s nationalism. Each food has a particular benefit to the body. I love how a slight cough and a scratchy throat in my 9 am class leads to a box of pears outside my office door by the end of the day, a gift from a concerned co-worker. In the States, someone might have offered me a cough drop!
How did you decide to start teaching in an orphanage?
11 years ago, a coworker at Kongju National University High School invited me to accompany him to an orphanage. He already was volunteering. I politely declined. I had good reasons. I had this idea that it would be irresponsible to visit an orphanage, teach a lesson for a couple of visits, and then go back to my carefree life and never return. I imagined that the kids had had their fair share of good intentioned volunteers who disappeared when it was no longer convenient to go there. I didn’t want to be that person.
My co-worker was very persistent, at times, annoyingly so. He just didn’t give up. It took nearly a year, but I finally acquiesced. My first visit was part of a Christmas event for the kids. In a couple of hours, the kids made an impression on me. I knew that if I was going to volunteer, I would have to commit for the long run. I have been volunteering for over 10 years.
What has been your biggest challenge in adapting to Korean culture?
My biggest challenge, and also my greatest reward, is teaching in Korea. The educational culture is strikingly different to what I have been accustomed to. My enthusiasm for education, learning, and self-improvement is in stark contract to that of most of my students. For many, education is strictly a means to an end and not a joy in itself. If I want them to value an end result, I have to make them ‘suffer’ through the process. The rewards at the end of a tough climb seem to have more weight with my students than the same rewards at the end of a longer, leisurely stroll.
How do you connect your faith to the classroom?
I am a teacher. I am a Christian. I can’t turn off being a Christian when I teach. Over the years, I had students ask me what makes me different from other teachers. My life goals, teaching style, attitude, and interactions are different. To me, it is all natural. I am myself conscientiously teaching for the glory of God.
The theme for Christian Teacher’s Annual Symposium is building community. How do you create community in your classroom?
For one of my classes, I have students read Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet In Heaven. I read this as an undergrad at Yale. It challenges the reader to consider his/her role in society and to value the roles of others. Through discussion, students see how we are connected as one part of a whole, a community. Each person has a part to play, a task, or a duty. I like to think I help plant the seeds of community in their minds as they go out to teach children, sewing seeds of their own.
(This was originally posted in the first Christian Teachers' Special Interest Group's Newsletter of KOTESOL, September 2014.)