Visiting Teachers from Korea Enjoy Texas Hospitality and Culture

PLAINVIEW – In the end, it’s all about the jewelry.

Christine Choi and Mihwa Suh made the long journey from South Korea to gain knowledge about American teaching methods and cultural differences. But what they’re most proud to take back is some American jewelry.

With a wide smile and a giggle, Choi, who teaches English in a high school in her home country, showed off her hands bearing two new rings to a small group gathered at Wayland Baptist University on Wednesday for a luncheon honoring the pair of Fulbright Scholars who have spent two weeks in Plainview.

“I will tell them a man gave these to me,” the unmarried Choi giggled again. “But it was Temple.”

“Temple” is Dr. Harold Temple, professor of chemistry at WBU, who with wife Audrey hosted Suh while in Plainview. Dr. Jim Todd, chairman of the Don Williams Division of Education at WBU, and his wife Martha hosted Choi in their home.

One set of rings are handmade silver with pink stones, crafted in Temple’s evening jewelry class – a side hobby he turned into a course a few years back – while the others are valuable because of their symbolism.

“Mine has a cross on it because I’m a Christian,” noted Choi, then pointed at her companion’s ring. “Hers is in the shape of Texas.”

During the luncheon and their brief presentation about Korean culture, Choi alternated between a giggly excitement and her more reserved background, while Suh remained the more reserved of the two women.

But when talking about their experiences in Texas for the past few weeks, both had plenty to say.

“I keep saying, ‘Aren’t we so lucky to be in Plainview? No one else will have the experiences we have had,’” said Choi, noting that the local school system’s use of different school campuses for each grade from fifth through eighth is unique in the state and definitely from her home country.

Choi spent her two weeks visiting a variety of classes at Plainview High School, learning the various techniques teachers in America use in English and other subjects. She also got a chance to share about her culture with local students.

“I found that our students in Korea are on about the same level the students here are on in their English classes, so that made me feel good,” she said. “English is not our second language in Korea, and we don’t use it in our daily life, so we have to practice a lot. We study it about three periods a day there.”

Suh spent her two weeks at Estacado Junior High, primarily in four English classes observing and speaking. She found the experience helpful in improving her own teaching skills.

“We learned lots of teaching methodology for multicultural classes,” she noted. “I plan to use a lot of the activities they did in my classes, even though they are 12th grade.”

Both teachers agreed the exchange was valuable to their careers as well as their cultural outlook, and both said some stereotypes about America were crushed on the trip.

“When we think about America, we are often prejudiced because we think students are loud and too active and have too much freedom,” Choi said. “But they were actually very polite and were not afraid to ask questions. In my country, we listen a lot and don’t ask a lot of questions, so I liked that. I’d like to bring some of that culture to my classroom.”

Suh said her image of American schools as dangerous – given by a teacher in Korea who was an American and wouldn’t send his children to high school in the States – was dispelled as well.

Choi noted she felt that God had answered her prayer to send her to a place where she could learn and meet new people. She was encouraged to get to stay with a Christian family in America as well.

Both ladies noted the kindness and generosity of the Americans they met while in Plainview and at Wayland, and were excited to enjoy the hospitality of the exchange program.

“We have been treated like very special guests. I like being a princess,” giggled Choi.

For their part, Wayland education faculty enjoyed the chance to show their students what life – and teaching – is like on the other side of the globe.

“We love these kinds of experiences,” said Todd. “As we have experiences like this, the boundaries of our world keep shrinking and we learn about ourselves and others.”

The teachers will return to Austin soon to complete their reporting at the University of Texas, where they spent the first four weeks of their program, before going back to South Korea.