All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.
My time in Korea as a Fulbright Distinguished Teaching Awards recipient offered me the chance to gain insight into Korean culture, its history and its system of education. Vietnam and Cambodia added an extra level of insight into other ways of life and cultures. The time spent abroad also gave me a new perspective into our own system of education and its impact on our practitioners and students.
I will continue to write about my experience in Korea. Some posts will be about Korea and some will be about the way the journey has shaped how I relate to the students and families I work with, how their culture and mores relate to our school culture and the impact of my working overseas.
The first week back at work reinforced my love for my students and my commitment to their success. Meeting the students who recently left their countries to begin a new life in ours, reminded me of the amazing resilience of childhood. They are ready for the challenge to learn English, to make new friends. My job is to help them to feel that they belong in their new setting while still keeping their heritage and culture.This ability to integrate what they bring with them and what is new is key to their success and to our work as educators.
As a professional working with immigrants, it is my belief that these new students should ensure that they remain bilingual. Learning English should be an addition to their repertoire of skills and it should not be a matter of either or. Part of our responsibility is to help them succeed at this.
One of the “take-aways” from my experience abroad is that bilingualism is a must for the countries I visited – English is the lingua franca, the international language and students are able to become skilled in using both, their home language and English. This skill makes them globally competent, something they truly aspire to be.
My students, who arrived from Korea these past few months, beaming with pride as I can now exchange a few words in their language with them. They talk about their homeland with nostalgia but are excited to be part of what lies ahead of them.They stand tall as I share pictures of their country with the different classrooms. Their peers have so many questions about Korea and “oohs and ahs” are heard when they see photos of the Lotte Tower, the bridges, the traffic, the city and the lunches served in Korean schools. This is one powerful way to bridge perspectives and share our humanity. This is the first tangible impact in my classroom that results from my Fulbright experience.
I miss Korea, the challenge of navigating a different language and culture and the never ending opportunity to explore, discover and learn. However, the new challenge is to implement and disseminate what this experience has given me. Now I can honestly answer some of the questions a group of first graders had about Korea when they wrote this poem. Maybe you can answer some of their questions too.
Please join me on the new chapter, maybe one of reflection. I hope this blog will continue to offer practitioners, parents and people interested in education and diversity, a place to exchange ideas so we can achieve a better understanding of how we are all connected.