English teaching program unites 2 citiesWhen 22-year-old Christian Gonzalez-Rivera graduated from Columbia University last year, he wanted to travel and be a free-spirited citizen of the world. Just when he was looking for an adventure, he saw an advertisement posted in the school’s career center.
The proposal was to travel to South Korea and teach English while experiencing the local culture by living with a Korean family. He jumped at the chance, applied and was accepted. After four months of living and traveling in Korea, Mr. Gonzalez-Rivera says the experience was life-altering, and he plans to return in March for the spring semester.
Beginning in August, Mr. Gonzalez-Rivera and 19 other Americans participated in the Teacher Exchange Program (TEP), sponsored and organized by New York’s borough of Manhattan and the Seocho district of Seoul.
Andrea Nieves, a 26-year-old teacher who has taught English in France, says she had no knowledge of Korea before she decided to come here. She arrived at Incheon International Airport “expecting nothing,” but after a few months in Seoul with her host family, she developed a strong connection with them and the country.
For a farewell party hosted recently by Cho Nam-ho, Seocho’s mayor, Ms. Nieves showed up in colorful hanbok, a Korean traditional costume. The outfit was a present from the parents in her host family, whom she affectionately called “Eomma” and “Appa,” or “Mom” and “Dad.”
Susan Pompian, 62, said she took a leave of absence from her job to come to Korea, a country she never expected to visit. While teaching at Banpo Elementary School, she was so deeply impressed with Koreans’ hospitality and warmth that she also decided to come back. At the farewell party at a Korean barbecue restaurant, she recited a poem about her encounters in Korea that elicited much laughter and applause.
The American teachers, who came from various backgrounds, had never met before joining the TEP program. Among them were people whose ethnic background is Chinese, Korean, Cuban, African and more. They became fast friends with each other and with the Koreans they met.
David Satlin, 41, from Seattle, was one of two teachers who did not come from New York. When he came to Korea, Mr. Satlin says he was surprised to see such diversity among the teachers in terms of age and teaching experience. “I had expected to see young teachers fresh out of college, but here we have serious teachers whose resumes are packed with experience and degrees. I’m impressed with the district’s selection of teachers,” he says.
Out of the 20 teachers, nine, including Mr. Satlin, Ms. Nieves and Ms. Pompian, are returning for the program’s next term, which resumes in March.
The seeds for such personal enlightenment were planted in October 2003, when Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields traveled to South Korea for an official visit with Mr. Cho, Seocho’s mayor. The two districts agreed to become “sister cities,” to enhance their mutual understanding through exchanges of professionals and material resources in the areas of education, culture, art, technology and commerce. The Teacher Exchange Program was developed as its first project.
The program aims to foster cross-cultural exchange between American teachers and Korean elementary school students in Seocho district. The benefit is mutual, educationally and culturally, as the visiting teachers enjoyed their immersion in Korean culture while cultivating in young Koreans a genuine interest in learning English and a better understanding of American culture on a daily basis.
Early last year, in search of the first group of eligible teachers who were willing to travel and live in South Korea for a few months, Lee Se-jong, a former president of the Korean-American Association based in New York, helped coordinate the program. Mr. Lee first contacted the heads of four colleges in Manhattan: Pace University, City College, Columbia University and Hunter College.
In the spring, the first six teachers were assigned to home stays with Korean families and to teach in elementary schools in the district.
The idea of having qualified English teachers come to their home ground was immediately welcomed by Korean parents, whose primary educational concerns include having their youngsters learn English. Another plus is that it was free of charge.
Enthusiastic parents whose children were taught by the teachers from Manhattan wanted the mayor to continue the program; those who didn’t have the opportunity to participate demanded the same type of program for their schools.
Mr. Cho is elated with the program’s immediate response from parents and the results for the children. “Now children who spent time with the American teachers are not afraid to speak to foreigners,” he says. “That’s probably the most effective education we parents [have sought] for a long time.”
Currently, the mayor is looking into whether the teachers can earn college credits through the program.
But, he has an even bigger project in mind. He is planning to turn one of the district’s citizens’ parks into an English Theme Park.
According to Mr. Cho, the park will have a number of “booths,” such as a post office and a fire station, with English teachers and volunteers working there, so that visitors can engage in various social situations. For a small entrance fee, visitors of all ages can spend an entire day mingling and practicing English.
The park is scheduled to open to the public in May. The district is expecting to receive 60 English teachers, in addition to the 20 teachers assigned to schools, from New York and other cities across the United States who will work in the park.
Mr. Cho sees the project as a natural and fun way to connect the two familiar yet distant societies divided by a language barrier, the United States and Korea. “We’re seeking volunteers from the American community in Korea as well, who can help to build a small but meaningful bicultural community within the city,” he says.
What is the Teachers Exchange Program (TEP)?
TEP participants teach English to sixth grade students at selected Seocho district elementary schools. Classes range from 30 to 50 students. Having flexibility and creative freedom in designing the curriculum, the teachers supplement provided textbooks with their own individually tailored lesson plans and materials such as American books, games, activities and songs. Teachers also may assist with extracurricular activities and teach English to Korean teachers at their school once or twice per week. In addition, as part of the home stay exchange, teachers tutor the children at their host home for one hour per day on weekdays.
Application, resume and interview are required.
Applicants must fulfill the following criteria:
* Be a U.S. citizen.
* Be a native English speaker with at least a bachelor’s degree. A major in English and teaching experience are preferred but not required.
* Be between the ages of 22 and 62.
* Be proficient in basic computer skills, such as word processing and Internet research.
* Be able to travel alone.
Work Visa Requirements
Once accepted into the program, participants must obtain an E-2 work visa prior to entering Korea. The following documents are required:
* Either an original college diploma from a four-year college or a photocopy that has been notarized by the Korean Consulate.
* College academic transcripts.
* A signed employment contract, which will be sent to the teacher upon acceptance into the program.
These documents must be sent to the TEP office in Korea by express mail. The original college diploma will be returned upon the teacher’s arrival in Korea.
Compensation and Provisions
* A monthly salary of $2,000.
* Accommodations, including three meals a day, through a home stay located near one’s school. Participants may choose the alternative of securing their own housing using the 300,000 won monthly housing stipend provided by Seocho district.
* A round trip airplane ticket from New York City to Seoul.
* Health insurance, the cost of which will be half subsidized by Seocho district.
* Free, organized field trips every two weeks to cultural and historical attractions in Seoul and other parts of Korea.
* Transportation within Korea is not included.
by Ines Cho