These are a few of my wonderful students at Kookmin University in Seoul, Korea. One day after class we noticed that we were all wearing pink, and decided to take a picture. I’m lucky to have it now as I look back at my dream job.
THE DREAM JOB
I think I always wanted to be a teacher, but somehow gave up the idea when I was quite young after hearing a disparaging remark from my older brother. Fast forward 40 years, and there I was, standing in front of a class of freshman university students in Korea. It was an incredible journey to get there, and it took me a long long time. I’m always grateful to Reverend Moon Sun Myung for “encouraging me” to go to graduate school where I got the credentials I needed, and then inviting me to come to Korea, where the only job I could do was teach.
My first job was at a “hagwon” which I would normally call an after-school language institute or academy. I worked in the countryside town of Gochang (고창) in Cheollabuk-do, a 3 and 1/2 hour bus ride from Seoul. It was the first place we went when we came to Korea, and we stayed there for 3 years. My husband and daughter were there with me. She was attending the Gochang Girls’ Middle School, and going through her own journey. (see http://dir.groups.yahoo.com/group/WorldTies/message/1816?o=1&d=-1)
The hagwon job was hard. I came home every day exhausted by the long hours and constant discipline problems. I didn’t really know how to teach, and I was in a country with an unfamiliar way of doing education. I was shocked by the games the kids played because of the pain they inflicted on each other, and the punishments they endured from their teachers. I surprised myself and knew I was getting inculturated when I bought one of those bamboo sticks that make a noise when you slap it into your palm.
When Emilie graduated, we moved to Seoul, and I was given a job at Seokyeong University because of its connection with her high school. It was an upgrade from life at the hagwon, and I was happy to be with other colleagues I could learn from, and older students who weren’t running around the classroom. However, I had learned a lot from my exuberant elementary school students in Gochang. They were incredibly un-self-conscious. I remember the time one of them came up to the front of the class to show me very proudly that she was wearing her first training bra. “Teacher, look!” I was the embarrassed one! Those kids showed me the Korean culture without realizing it, and I found myself falling in love.
After two years teaching at Seokyeong University, I got a job offer from Kookmin University. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had just found my dream job. Looking out at my classes, I knew I was fortunate to have found a career that gave me a chance to be with young people every day, fit my skills and interests, and provided me with so much fulfillment and joy. I loved my work at KMU for many reasons. The school offered us a lot of freedom to create our own classroom style and content, which is not the case for many teachers. Our department chairman, Dr. Kim Do Yeon, gave us the opportunity to design and teach content courses in our specific fields of interest. I created a course in Extensive Reading, which was a growing passion of mine, and one of my colleagues designed a fantastic course in Greek Mythology. We were inspired and so were our students.
I gained a lot of experience while at KMU, and I gave a lot of time and attention to any student who asked for it. They were eager to overcome their fears of English and helping them was one of my main tasks as a teacher. They wanted to become global citizens, and English was the ticket to get them there. Sometimes I felt like a prophet on a mission ~ every second of class time was precious, and every thing we did was for the same goal and purpose~ to get them speaking freely and with confidence. I came to see myself as an ambassador for the US as well. Many Korean young people were voicing the popular sentiment to remove the American military from South Korea, and let their country stand for once on its own. I was aware that what I did and how I behaved made a difference.
There are many things I can tell you about my Dream Job at KMU, and one of the greatest takeaways was the collection of hundreds of stories that students wrote about their life challenges and victories. I am looking back now from across the sea and thinking about how precious these stories are, and how I would like to share them. So begins THE LIFE STORY PROJECT!