Sung-hee Seo, 27, a high school teacher from Korea, has taken advantage of a unique learning opportunity thanks to partnerships Texas A&M International University has forged with local middle and high schools and a state educational organization.
Seo, who is from the Jeolla North Province of Korea, just completed a two-week visit to Laredo's United High School during a secondary school site residency portion of a Korean Fulbright American Studies Institute program that includes extensive classroom observation.
The Texas International Education Consortium (TIEC), of which A&M International is a member, arranged Seo's and another middle school teacher, Hyun-jin Goh's visit to the United States.
Once that happened, A&M International's College of Education, the Office of International Programs, United High School and Clark Middle School worked together to facilitate the two teachers' stay in Laredo. While Seo visited United High School, Goh, a middle school teacher, visited Clark Middle School.
Much like ESL teachers here, Seo faces the challenge of introducing a new language to non-English speaking students back home.
"I've been observing the classes here and found that teachers here are similar to ESL teachers in Korea. They have to teach English to students who speak Spanish. In Korea, we have to teach English to students who speak Korean," Seo said.
Seo who also visited with administrators, staff, faculty and parents while at United High School made numerous presentations on Korean culture while co-teaching portions of lessons in classrooms.
"Students are curious," Seo said, "For example, they want to know what Koreans think about American soldiers that are stationed in Korea. I also found that students here have enough time to work and play."
Seo said once she returns to Korea, she will be required to utilize the knowledge she gained in the United States to help other ESL teachers deliver lessons effectively.
"In Korea, English is one of the most important subjects we teach. One problem is that the majority of teachers until now have learned English through reading and writing. But now, we are also focusing on speaking and listening," Seo said, adding that her newly-acquired experience in the United States will help her assist other teachers.
Seo's host family member, Olga Verduzco, also a language and ESL teacher at United High School and an adjunct faculty member at A&M International, said her family is delighted to host Seo.
"We were doing the best we could to insure that she (Seo) could have the opportunity to observe the public school system here," Verduzco said, "The basic differences that I learned about Korean schools is that in Korea, teachers are highly respected and that students are punished for not showing respect. Teachers are respected in the order of teacher, mother and president. Also, in Korea, teachers are the ones who move from classroom to classroom during homeroom instead of the students."
Dr. Rosa María Vida, dean of the College of Education at A&M International, said A&M International's partnership with the local school systems made Seo's visit to Laredo successful.
"As soon as we knew they (visitors) were coming, we contacted the middle school and high school, who did not hesitate to welcome these teachers," Dr. Vida said, "We have a natural mechanism for schools to place them."
Vida said Seo's visit made for a perfect cultural and educational exchange.
"She (Seo) brought a Korean costume to the social study classes and that's a richness of experience that the kids would not get normally," Vida said, "On the other hand, she learned about the educational system and teaching strategies from teachers of numerous subjects. She also had the opportunity to observe our community activities, the border influence from Mexico, and how we make modifications to cater to the needs our students."
Jannet García, director of the University's Office of International Programs, said the Korean visitors brought diversity to the local schools and the community.
" Through our affiliation with TIEC, A&M International has been able to participate in various international education activities. Programs such as the Korean Teacher exchange have contributed to the internationalization of the campuses and the Laredo community. It is yet another venue to bring together students and professionals from different nations to explore cultural differences," García said.
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