Dispatch from South Korea: Final blog

December 22, 2008

Editor's Note: This is a series of dispatches from Luke Zeller, who graduated in June with a bachelor of science in secondary education (English and communications) from the College of Education. A Schreyer Honors College Scholar, he earned a Fulbright Scholarship to teach English as a foreign language in South Korea. He arrived in early July, and spent the first six weeks in an intensive Korean language and culture orientation at Kangwon University in Chuncheon. Afterwards, he was placed with a host family to begin his teaching at a community school until July 2009.

December 17

Anyang Anyang!

This will be my last blog. My fall semester is finishing, and I have no school classes until the spring semester starts on March 2nd. In January, I will teach a conversation class for one week and will spend one week in Seoul with five of my students in a really exciting leadership program for young Koreans that is being run through Fulbright.

Then, I will do some traveling. I'll be going to China and hopefully SE Asia: Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

I'll teach at this same high school from March to July, and then I will finally come home around July 16th or so when my contract runs out. Then, we'll see what happens next year. I know I want to keep teaching/educating in some way.

Right now, I am in the midst of my final week of classes for this fall semester. For me, as the "alternative teacher," the Native English teacher who does not really teach anything important for their high school examinations, it is not all that stressful. I am not collecting final papers or grading semester tests; instead, I have planned a farewell party to have with each of my classes.

Much of this semester has consisted of me trying to figure out what I am doing as an English conversation teacher in this Korean education system. It has been an exhausting period of adjusting and constant learning from a foreign culture, which has been kind of cool.

I can say that I now have a better understanding of my position in Korea, and have come to appreciate the power of English in a global context.

Native English speakers are equipped with an instant authority over the language that is dominantly used in the world today. Many native speakers come to places like Korea to teach and wield that authority with a puffed-out chest and an iron fist. Instead of listening to students and being willing to interpret their language, they can quickly dismiss anything that is not a standard form of English. A good example of my contrary approach happened today when I entered a classroom and a student said to me, "His last class with us today?" It took me a second to realize that she was talking about me. She said "His" instead of "Your." "His" and "Your" are possessive adjectives, and I am a man, so in many ways it made sense for her to use "His" even though it sounds funny to a native speaker's ear!

I was glad that I deciphered what she meant and was able to respond. It means a lot to me that students are willing to make attempts at English with me. These comfortable relationships that I have developed with my students have been the most valuable part of my teaching here. These relationships are what really seem to matter; it gives me a purpose for why I am at the school. I have far too many students with too little class time to inquire into a subject with any depth. The relationships and the constant interactions that I have had with the students, therefore, have been the biggest contributions that I have been able to make to their education.

By living in Korea thus far, I've been confronted with many values and ideas that took me a long time to understand and appreciate. I can certainly say that my perspective on "the way things ought to be" has really broadened, and I am grateful for that. Teaching at a Korean school has offered me these constant opportunities to learn from Koreans, and I think it will continue.

In Korea, a Konglish word is "Fighting." It is a cheer to keep working hard, to keep fighting. Therefore, as everyone is approaching a little winter break, Fighting!

This is a picture of me with one of my more invigorating classes. (Disclaimer: The "Peace" sign is totally standard for being in a picture while in Korea. I remember seeing pictures of people in Korea making the peace sign before I came here, and I never thought that I would take part, but you kind of feel like you must.)

  • Zeller and his students

    IMAGE: Luke Zeller

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Last Updated November 18, 2010