Maine West teacher will take Korea travels to her classroom
Maine West Social Science teacher Gwynne Ryan always faces a challenge in preparing for her World Cultures class. Because the course’s scope spans the entire globe, it is, of course, difficult to cover it all.
But the 15-year teacher will be better prepared to present the East Asian portion of the class this year, thanks to two weeks she spent in Korea as part of The Korea Society’s Summer Fellowship Study Trip. Ryan earned a place among 40 teachers chosen by the New York-based Korea Society, which sponsors the endeavor to enhance U.S. understanding of its homeland and which selects each year’s participants from among many applicants.
Ryan’s group spent their first week at Korea University in Seoul, where they immersed themselves in learning about the nation’s history, art, education, economics and popular culture. They took field trips to palaces and gardens. They attended art performances and visited Koreans’ homes, where they experienced such customs as traditional tea service.
Week two entailed travel and lots of it. Ryan and the other teachers got to further know their host country through 900 miles of driving through both cities and countryside and replete with stops at areas of interest ranging from Confucian temples to Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world’s largest shipbuilder.
“Their whole society is so well maintained and well organized,” Ryan observed. “They have an amazing standard of living.”
Because they are teachers, the group also, of course, spent time in Korean schools, which are demanding beyond American imagination. The high school students they visited had school schedules that stretched from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
“One student told us he gets basically four hours of sleep a night,” Ryan said. “They are number one in the world for standardized testing, but they also have a high suicide rate. The kids are under so much pressure to perform.”
Ryan said older public school students at the Foreign Language High School they visited essentially spend all their waking time studying, save a once-a-week physical education class that is sometimes skipped to devote even more time to core courses.
“The kids had presentation for us, and we each teach taught a lesson to a group of students,” Ryan said. “They spoke amazing English.”
Back at Maine West, Ryan, who previously visited China and whose father has told her of his high school years spent in Japan, will now package her firsthand knowledge of Korea into a more detailed and nuanced unit on East Asia.
“I feel like what I’m able to do now is much more appropriately talk about East Asia culture, about how these three (Korea, China and Japan) are so different and yet similar in some ways.”
Beyond that, Ryan hopes that her students will, in hearing her accounts of Korea, start to dream of their own travels. “I think the idea of getting out of your own back yard and going somewhere else,” she said, “is not so scary when you’ve heard someone talk about doing that.”
Additional information about the Korea Society, its materials and programs may be found at the Society’s Web site: http://www.koreasociety.org/.