Visiting Korean teachers learn about U.S. customs, education

Release Date: February 6, 2008

PLAINVIEW – It’s a common joke among West Texans: If you don’t like the weather, just hang around a minute and it’ll change. And you’re never truly a Texan if you don’t have a great story about the crazy weather.

If that’s the case, South Koreans Seonghun “Paul” Jeong and Eunyoung “Lilly” Ko are now honorary Texans.

After spending two weeks in Plainview as part of a Fulbright Institute cultural and language exchange, the pair were enamored with many facets of American culture. But it was the Texas weather they found most remarkable.

“In Korea we have four distinct seasons,” said Lilly, who teaches 10th grade English at a girls’ school on Cheju Island, the southernmost part of South Korea known for its tangerine groves.

“I felt four seasons in one day here,” laughed Paul, who teaches 11th grade English at a private boys’ school in Daegu. “It was cold one morning and hot in the afternoon.”

Adjusting to Texas weather has just been one part of their experience in Plainview, as they have spent two weeks observing American students at Plainview High School and Estacado Junior High as well as Wayland and making presentations about their own culture in Korea. The exchange has been beneficial for all parties.

“This is my first visit to the United States, and it’s a good chance for me to improve my own English skills and experience real life in the USA so I can teach my students,” said Paul, who spent most of his time at PHS. “I think all Korean English teachers should come here at least once.

Lilly said she plans to take back her experiences to her English students as well, particularly the “real life” side of America.

“I teach about American life as theory because I had never been here, but now I can teach it from experience,” she said.

Both admit they found the US to be different than the prevailing attitude of their citizens, that of a brash, arrogant people. Instead, they say they experienced Texas hospitality and found the students to be kind and friendly to them.

At a luncheon held in their honor Wednesday at Wayland, the pair shared cultural information with WBU teachers and students present, highlighting the differences in education systems. In Korea, Paul shared, students arrive around 7:30 a.m. but do not go home until nearly 11 p.m. Traditional lecture classes end in the early evenings, then the students spend their evening hours studying for tests, papers or the SATs for college entrance.

“In Korea, we don’t have many natural resources, just our people. So the students have to study very hard to get into the universities and get good jobs,” said Paul, explaining the strict study regimen in Korea. “Students here are much more self-reliant, while Korean students rely more on their parents and teachers.”

Lilly noted that American students are more exposed to the fine arts than in Korea, and even middle school students learn to play various instruments and to sing “more professionally” through choirs. Korean education does include fine arts instruction, though it is limited, she said.

This is the fourth year that Wayland and Plainview have participated in the Fulbright exchange program, a partnership with the University of Texas that exposes Asian teachers to various aspects of Texas culture and education. Besides Plainview, the participants spend a few weeks in Austin and also visit San Antonio, Houston and other locations around the state.

While in Plainview, retired science professor Dr. Harold Temple and his wife Audrey hosted Lilly in their home, while business professor Charles Starnes and wife Susie hosted Paul.