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Mar 12, 2009

Korean Teachers Graduate: Smiles mingle with tears as teachers from Incheon, South Korea, end six-month experience in Wyoming


Powell Tribune News Editor

Faces bright with broad smiles marked a graduation ceremony on Saturday as 30 elementary teachers from Incheon, South Korea, accepted completion certificates at Northwest College.  “As educators, we have enjoyed watching you grow, along with your understanding of Wyoming and our American way of life,” said George Miller, president of Glacier-Bay Training. 

The teachers have been studying English and the American culture and education system since their arrival in Powell and Cody in September. They stayed in a motel in Cody for the first few months while dividing their studies between the campus in Powell and the NWC Cody center.

The teachers’ understanding of Wyoming began with the realization of the tremendous distances in Wyoming and its small population.   Miller said the drive from Salt Lake City to Cody after the teachers’ arrival was a shock to some. He noted that Wyoming is three times larger than Korea, while the city of Incheon’s population, at 2.75 million, is five and a half times greater.

For the past several weeks, the teachers lived with families throughout the northern Big Horn Basin and nearby Montana communities as they took their improved English skills to the classroom during a college-sponsored practicum. One teacher served her practicum in Burlington. Upon her arrival there, she asked her host family where she might find downtown Burlington, Miller said, prompting delighted laughter from the audience.

Miller said the teachers’ English-speaking skills had improved dramatically as a result of their classroom experience.

“I think what you’ve been through in the last six months (has taught you) more than anything else you’ll ever experience in your life,” said Kent Holiday, president of Eleutian Technology, through which the teachers’ educational and cultural experience was arranged. “You’ll never learn it in New York or Los Angeles. You have to visit rural America ... In rural America, you find hardworking people with good values.  “As you look back, you’re going to remember this experience, and the people you’ve touched are going to remember you.”

Sher Hruska, NWC vice president of academic affairs, also spoke to the graduates. “You being here is going to last with us for a long time,” Hruska said. “We’ve had a lot of students who have said, ‘I now know what I want to do with my life,’ because of their conversations with you.” Some students were inspired to become teachers because of their examples, Hruska said, while others were heartened by the courage the teachers showed in leaving their homes and the only culture they knew to come to Wyoming for training.

Through the Korean teachers’ examples, those students found the courage to make the changes they need to accomplish their education and career goals, she said. The teachers are returning to Korea today (Tuesday). “Know that many of us here, in our hearts, will be missing you,” Hruska said.

Though happy about their accomplishments and looking forward to returning to their homes and families, a few tears were visible as the event drew to a close. Friendships forged over the past six months were documented in pictures, with people posing together in every corner of the lounge at the DeWitt Student Center.

Kim Sun Mee, who served her practicum in Tara Bjornestad’s fifth-grade class at Parkside Elementary School, said she enjoyed her experience at Northwest College and in the elementary classroom.  “I want to stay longer,” she said, but added, “I have two children at home, and I miss them a lot. Six months is not long to learn English, but as a parent, six months is pretty long.”  She said she learned more than English-speaking skills while at Parkside.

“American teachers are very patient,” she said. “They teach (concepts) repeated, again and again. When I come back (to Incheon), I will be more patient.”