중앙데일리

Adoptee teaches dreams, not just English

May 30,2009
Mathew McGrath teaches English to a student in Chunga Elementary School. By Song Bong-geun
The good people who give something back to a community are considered angels. What makes them so good is they bestow tangible gifts and fill people’s hearts with hope.

Mathew McGrath, 23, a Korean adoptee from the United States, embodies this spirit by encouraging self-confidence and dreams in students at Chunga Elementary School through English education after school.

Chunga is on Gadeok Island, 20 minutes sailing south of Busan. In one classroom, 13 third- and fourth-graders are focused on pictures shown on cards. Upon seeing a picture of a pilot, students immediately shout “airplane man” together.

“Very good! But we call him a pilot,” says McGrath.

Students repeat the word “pilot” over and over. When the class is over, students gather around McGrath to play with him.

“Mathew, I want to be a pilot,” said fourth-grader Min-gyu. “Why do you never get angry even though we play around so much? Why are you speaking English so well even though you are Korean like us?” McGrath doesn’t answer. He just smiles.

After graduating from the University of Maryland, McGrath applied for the TaLK, or Teach and Learn in Korea, program in August last year. Managed by the Education Ministry, the program selects and dispatches teachers to elementary schools in local farming and fishing villages. They teach after school.

McGrath was born in Busan and was adopted to the U.S. when he was eight months old.

He came back to Korea out of curiosity and to perhaps find his birth mother.

As he had hoped, he was dispatched to Busan and taught English at Gwaebeop Elementary School last fall. In March this year, he became an English teacher at Chunga.

Approximately 3,000 residents live on the island and there are no private English teaching institutes. It’s not a popular place for teachers because it is remote, but McGrath did not hesitate when he found out nearly half the students at the school are orphans.

“I could have grown up in an orphanage if I had not been adopted,” he said.

McGrath lives in a single-room apartment in Busan. He first takes a bus to the dock and then a ferry to the island. And then another bus to the school. The whole trip takes about an hour and half and he teaches three hours a day, Monday through Friday.

“Students have become so interested in learning English thanks to Mathew,” said Kim Hae-cheong, the school principal. “He not only teaches English; he gives hope and dreams.”

On Teacher’s Day, May 15, McGrath got a letter from a six-grader who was orphaned. “Please don’t forget us. We will never forget your love toward us. Thank you,” the letter said. McGrath said he was very moved by it.

Ji Hyung-sik, head of the local orphanage, recently gave McGrath a calendar with pictures of the children on it as a gift.

“I sincerely thanked him for warming the hearts of these kids. That was more important than teaching English,” Ji said.

McGrath will be going back to the United States in July. He has already finished writing farewell notes to the kids. He would not elaborate, but hinted that his main message was about dreams coming true.

“Even though I was not able to find my [birth] mother, I am happy because the children in this school seemed like family,” he said.


By Jung Hyun-mok [smartpower@joongang.co.kr]



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