Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Guest Teacher

Hae-in and me at Yongji Lake.
I had a special treat today, and I just had to share it with my students: my friend Hae-in came to visit! Hae-in and I met at Swarthmore our freshman year; we were in the same Chinese class. She and the other Korean international students were the first South Korean nationals that I'd ever met, and they also taught me how to read the Korean alphabet, hangul. I guess you could say Hae-in was one of the first people who helped spark my interest in Korea so many years ago, so I am here now partly thanks to her influence.

Hae-in is back in Busan for summer vacation after finishing her first year of law school in the U.S. When I heard that she'd be in my neck of the woods while the Korean school year was still in session, I asked if she'd like to come visit my school and chat with my students. Although my high schoolers apply exclusively to Korean schools and don't really have plans to study abroad -- unless it's for their Ph.D. many years down the road -- I was sure that they'd find Hae-in and her story really interesting.

She came to talk to two of my third-year classes. They were quite surprised and excited about having a guest, and they were impressed that a Korean national (who wasn't an English teacher) could speak English so well. This realization also seemed to make them very shy, even when giving basic self-introductions, but they all did well. A few students in each class were actually incredibly enthused and asked question after question during our informal Q&A: What kinds of culture shock did you experience when you went to the U.S.? What do Americans know about Korea besides PSY and "Gangnam Style"? How much do American university students study? Do they party a lot? Are American universities ranked in the same way Korean universities are ranked? What do you think of the different educational systems? Can you tell us about Andrew's past?

Although Hae-in's experience was in economics and law, and my students study nothing but math and science, they connected well over the fact that their high school education was similarly rigorous and competitive. But I'm glad that Hae-in also strove to give my students the message that rather than study all the time simply for the sake of getting into the best college, they should find what their passion is -- what makes them excited to get up in the morning? -- and focus on that. We've all been blessed with an excellent education; my students have such overwhelming privilege already and they're essentially guaranteed academic success. With this in mind, why worry so much about your next test? Take the time instead to build relationships that will last. Do some extracurricular activities that you enjoy; they'll give you the added benefit of a more well-rounded application. And relax.

These are all things that I want to tell my students, but since they heard it from the mouth of a fellow Korean, I'm hoping that it'll stick better, even though it was in English. After each class, I'm sure my students left feeling encouraged.

Also, they were so cute when they talked to her, calling her "Hae-in Teacher" and generally giving off airs of awe or confusion or both. My co-teachers were excited to have her around, as well.

After school, Hae-in and I hung out at Yongji Lake, where the roses are in full bloom and the ducks and fish are lazing around as if it's already summer. We caught up on old times and then had 닭갈비 for dinner. It was such a wonderful day. 고마워요, 해인 티처!

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