An evening with the Son’s

So how do you learn more about students, their families and their home life? You follow them home. Well, we don’t typically do this as a matter of course. But at Daeil Foreign Language High School, host students invite American teachers to come home with them for dinner, to meet their families, and to spend the evening talking with them and their families about their lives in Korea, their commitment to education, and how it impacts their life outside of school.

DaSol Son and her family were just amazing hosts for me as they welcomed me into their home. I met her mother, who picked us up from the Daeil School after class was out around 6 pm and drove us to their home not far away from the Daeil campus.

Upon arrival at their home, a condominium located in a high rise complex near the school, Dasol told me the family moved here because of the close proximity to the Daeil School. Unfortunately, it meant that her father now has to commute from 60-90 minutes each way to his small business (where he manufactures and sells shutters and other external home furnishings on buildings in Korea today).

Dasol’s brother informed me that he didn’t even know the family had moved until he arrived home from college and his mother was driving the car in a direction away from their old house. When he asked her about it she said she forgot to tell him that the moved so his sister could be closer to the Daeil Foreign Language High School. Now that’s commitment to education! Wow!

Why do the parents make such a commitment? Her mother told me that she loves her daughter and wants the best for her. Her husband and she agreed that the move was critical to helping her get the best education possible. They want her to have all of the opportunities that they never had.

The father did not join us for dinner as he was working late in the factory, a regular occurrence, according to Dasol. The factory is a family affair when school is out, but the father adds hours when school is in session, resulting in longer days and the need for more workers to help out in the factory, which cuts into their tight profit margins.

So what does Dasol enjoy when she’s not studying? She loves anime. She has some favorite characters in Korean anime and has seen a number of Japanese anime, but continues to like the Korean anime better. The family also enjoys attending their Lutheran Christian Church, just east of Seoul.

Her brother plays the piano at church, when needed, and played a couple of beautiful songs on the piano before we ate dinner, as his mother and sister sang along in Korean to his piano playing. It was like attending my own private concert and it was incredible. This family is amazingly talented. Best of all, it’s something that the entire family can do together. Despite all of their many busy schedules, involvement in their church activities is a great way for them to connect with each other, in addition to their church community.

I mentioned that her brother attends the State University of New York at Buffalo in the U.S. So why did he decide to go to SUNY Buffalo and how has the family dealt with his long-distance education? He said they have been so supportive. Like his sister, his parents want him to succeed in education and graduate with many career opportunities available to him.

Half joking, he said they also want him to get a good job so they can retire and he can take care of them. Pressing further, I asked him how he would feel about that and he said he would love to be able to take care of them the way they have taken care of him. It’s only right to do right by them for all they have sacrificed for him. A very powerful message for all of us.


Learning about Dasol Son

I learned so much from my host student at Daeil Foreign Language High School. Her name is Dasol Son and she is a sophomore at the school. She applied for the privilege of becoming a host student to an American teacher and was paired with me as I was appointed to be teaching her class.

Classes tend to move in cohorts, with the same students in each class or most classes, and so they tend to have the same classes with the same teachers. So it was interesting to be able to talk with Dasol about her experiences with the Daeil school, as well as her fellow students, her study habits and her ultimate goals.

Dasol works hard. She spends most of her life right now in classes, studying (individually or in study groups) and preparing for classes. I asked her about her weekly schedule. She is in classes from 7 am until about 6 pm (with a few breaks here and there in the schedule). She has individual study time from 6-10 pm and either stays at school or spends that time at home in individual study.

From time to time, she may extend that study time until 11 pm or 12 midnight, depending on a test coming up, a paper that is due, or an upcoming deadline. Monday through Saturday, she maintains this schedule. Yes, you heard that right … Monday through Saturday. On Sunday, she attends church in the morning with her family, and then spends the rest of the day (afternoon and evening) working on homework and playing “catch-up” on classwork and coursework for the week ahead.

So the next time you are overwhelmed with homework and your schedule is making you feel like the walls are closing in on you, think about Dasol’s schedule. She’s probably still studying.   🙂

But why? Why is she doing all this work when she could be spending time going out with friends? Spending more time with her mom and dad? Or going to the movies with her brother, who is home from school at SUNY University in Buffalo, New York?

She wants to attend a prestigious college or university, either in Korea or in the United States. She knows that her future is in her hands. Her education is the key to her future success and she doesn’t want to lose. She wants to win … and win big! So she strives to be the best in all she does.

When I asked her if she was the top of her class, she laughed at me. She said she doesn’t study enough to be that alpha girl (see earlier post on alpha girls). But she said she definitely wants to be one of the top students in her class, so she continues to compete with the best and the brightest at Daeil Foreign Language High School.

What does she think about all this pressure? She said sometimes she gets overwhelmed by it all and has to have a “heart to heart” with her mother, her closest friend and confidante. But she said they talk about the reasons why an education is so important, how it will help her in the future, and what she can do to impact that future. She said once they have that conversation, and she is reminded by her mother that she can do this and how intelligent, bright and energetic that she is, it helps give her the fuel to keep working. Her mother is definitely her role model and her strength to keep succeeding.

So how do you really get to know someone and their family’s commitment to their educational success? You follow them home! That’s in my next blog entry …


Touring Daeil H.S. with Dasol Son, my host student

Upon arrival at the Daeil Foreign Language High School for our first day of class, we were greeted by our host students. Each host student was assigned an American teacher, who they escorted around the Daeil campus. They explained to us more about the school, the students, the faculty, the rigors of education at Daeil, and their highlights and challenges of attending Daeil High School.

Best of all, the host student visit included a trip home with the student to have dinner with their families and to visit with them in more detail. It was a great opportunity for students, parents and American teachers to talk in a more relaxed atmosphere about their lives in Seoul, South Korea. We were also able to talk about their weekly student schedules, how the Daeil School schedule has impacted the lives of the entire family, and what are their hopes and expectations of a Daeil education upon graduation.

My student’s name was Dasol Son. She is amazing! From the moment she introduced herself until she introduced me to her mother and brother at the end of the day, her English was spectacular. While she claimed that she struggles with English (but loves and seems to excel more with her fluency in Japanese), it was hard for me to notice any issues with her English because of her thorough and meticulous approach to making sure her sentences and thoughts were just right.

The host students did an excellent job presenting information about their school, their education programs and their college goals and aspirations upon graduation. They explained the different types of programs available throughout their tenure at Daeil High School, such as international voluntary programs and more than 30 active clubs that focus on student interests and talents from languages to poetry, literature and drama.

Following the presentation, students gave us an individual tour of the Daeil campus. Now keep in mind that the campus is on a steep hill. It consists of three large buildings cascading up the hill, interspersed with lush green gardens, playing fields and parking areas for parents, teachers and administrators. The campus is truly beautiful and exemplifies the commitment and focus that students and faculty have toward student education in foreign languages.


Teaching entrepreneurship at Daeil HS

While I was told to expect as many as 50 students in my class (which of course, I was), I was pleasantly surprised to find my class had 37 wonderful students.

Not only did they speak English with such fluency and fervor, but they were very interested in learning about entrepreneurship, factors of production, marketing and advertising techniques and how businesses work in America.

Best of all, my Daeil High School students learned about entrepreneurship, some of the thought processes that go into creating small businesses and some of the idea-creation that help companies create logos, just some of the components  as part of this entrepreneurship unit (similar to the one I use in my economics class back at Kennedy High School in Maryland). Students came up with small business names, logos for their businesses and alliances they had with other small businesses within the classroom.

Was there a class clown? Yes. An alpha girl? Huh? You’re probably wondering, what is that? I learned this is the class “brain” who seems to know everything, and yes, my class even had an “alpha girl” who, of course, was brilliant.

One of the best realizations that I found from my experiences with these students was that at the end of the day, kids are kids. They even laughed at my bad jokes! (my Kennedy students will know what I mean by that!)

I will always remember my times with the students at Daeil Foreign Language High School here in Seoul, South Korea. On my last day, I brought in gift bags for each of the students. They love gifts and the packaging is just as important in Korea as the gift itself.

So I enlisted the help of my sister while in Maryland to create gift bags with goodies for students which I would assemble once in Seoul, but I wanted them to have connections to our students and experiences in Maryland. So to represent my students, we gave each of them a small soccer ball to represent my students’ passion for soccer. We also included a pack of Starburst fruit flavors, which are manufactured at a factory not far from our school, and a Maryland magnet which highlights the many things to do while in Maryland.

Needless to say, my students at Daeil Foreign Language High School LOVED the gift bags and the gifts. They really liked the soccer balls as they love soccer here, too.

They had never experienced the Starburst fruit flavors, so it was a new type of candy for them. And they liked the Maryland magnet which they were able to take home and share with their parents.

All in all, it was a great time and a great part of my experience here in Korea. The students were wonderful and will always be a highlight of my trip.


Teaching at Daeil Foreign Language High School in Seoul

The primary interest I had in this Korean Studies Program and traveling to South Korea was the opportunity to visit and teach students in South Korea about economics concepts from my classroom in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA. So I was very excited when the day arrived for us to visit Daeil Foreign Language High School, where I would be teaching in Seoul.

Some background on Daeil Foreign Language High School, the school was founded in 1983 to help students excel in French, German, Spanish and Japanese. The concept behind the school is to help these students succeed globally by having a firm foundation in global languages that will help students utilize their language expertise to build upon that by gaining a global education at colleges and universities around the world, that will ultimately lead to global business opportunities and job leads in the global community.

Today, students at Daeil are required to learn English as a mandatory language, and the school has additional full programs in German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Russian and Chinese for the 1,500+ students who attend this three-year high school before attending some of the world’s top schools, including Yale, Harvard, Penn, Oxford, Texas, Princeton, Boston, and many more.

This is not your ordinary public school. It is VERY competitive to get accepted to attend school here at Daeil and only 1,500 students are accepted each year to attend, which means about 500 new students each year are competing among thousands for a spot in their prestigious sophomore class (high schools in Korea are three years, typically tenth through twelfth grades).

Being accepted could make the difference between going to an Ivy League school in the US, going to the coveted Korea University, or else attending the equivalent of a community college, if any college at all. So the stakes are very high. I’ll talk more on the experiences of some of the students at Daeil when I share later in my blog about my conversations with my host student, Dasol Son, and her brother and parents about their experiences with Korean education.

More in the next blog post on my students and my class at Daeil. What an experience to teach here in South Korea!


Economics of South Korea

One of the highlights of our trip to South Korea is the opportunity to hear from guest lecturers at Korea University, the premier university of thought leaders in Seoul and southeast Asia. We had the privilege of speaking with Professor Keuk-Je Sung, a professor of economics at Kyung Hee University’s Graduate School of Pan-Pacific International Studies.

Professor Sung’s lecture, “Korean Economic Development throughout History,” provided us with an overview of the issues associated with the struggles for economic independence that Koreans have had over time. He spoke about where South Korea has come from in these struggles and how they have grown to become the powerhouse of Southeast Asia that they are today. With business corporations like Samsung, Hyundai, LG, S-Oil and Kia, South Korean companies are proving the business acumen to compete in the global marketplace. But it wasn’t always this way.

Dr. Sung talked about the five levels of labor that an economy faces as they grow: (1) assembling products with less than 100 parts, like televisions, (2) assembling products with 1000+ parts, such as automobiles, (3) developing technologies for products like telecommunications and more advanced microchip devices, (4) developing products for airplane jets and other advanced technologies, and (5) developing technologies for space exploration and futuristic modalities. These are the levels of technology by which an economy can be judged, from the most basic to the most advanced. He said South Korea is advancing in the fourth and fifth stages, showing the world how they are competing in the global marketplace in these new technological spaces.

One strength that Dr. Sung said the South Koreans have is the strong economic will to succeed at all costs. Their children continue to focus on education and advanced knowledge in math, science, languages and technologies is helping them to compete globally in the 21st century. But he also said concerns among South Koreans include an aging population, and the loss of institutional knowledge because sacrifice is generational (younger South Koreans don’t know and understand the sacrifices that older South Koreans had to make in the past, in order to be successful today) continues to plague concerns about corporate continuity and change management.

North Korea continues to plague the economy of South Korea. Dr. Sung emphasized the gratitude and importance of the role of U.S. servicemen and women to help promote democracy in South Korea. He thanked all of us on behalf of a grateful nation and reminded us that while older South Koreans may have wanted reunification to become a reality, the younger generation looks at unification issues in terms of their own economic success: they don’t want unification to allow North Koreans to take their jobs.

All of these issues continue to plague the economic environment, but remain in the background as South Koreans continue to engage competitors on the global stage. Dr. Sung reminded us that South Korea has few natural resources that they can export, which underscores the importance of education to use their technological know-how and business expertise to remain competitive.


Korean War Memorial Museum – Part II

The Korean War Memorial Museum was such a great museum that I had to take one more opportunity to post more details on what I found here. The significance of the flags flying outside the museum demonstrate those allies who supported the Republic of Korea (South Korea) during the war.

Most significant is the placement of the U.S. flag right next to the flag, a significant reminder of the role of U.S. troops who fought, bled and died for the freedoms that South Koreans continue to experience in their democracy today. It’s a powerful message of the numerous nations that have pledged varying levels of support, both militarily and financially, to support the government of South Korea over the last 50+ years. Yet all of this support is minor in comparison to what the American peoples and the U.S. Government have given to South Koreans since that time.

The thousands of American troops who lost their lives here will never be forgotten. This museum is a memorial and a testament to the ultimate sacrifice that thousands of troops have made, with their lives, to help maintain freedom and democracy in South Korea, and ultimately, in our own country as well.

Thank you, to all of the American troops who gave their lives, livelihoods and the families who made the ultimate sacrifice to help protect democracy here and around the world.

You have reminded us once again that freedom is never free. Thank you. We owe you our deepest gratitude, respect and admiration. God bless you and God bless the United States of America.