Em in Asia!

My Experiences Living and Teaching in South Korea

Student Profile: Member Koo


His name isn’t actually Member, that’s just how Conversation Lee refers to him. Or rather, his name IS in fact Member, in Korean, just like how Conversation Lee’s name actually is the word for “conversation,” but Member didn’t quite own the name like Conversation did up until recently. Every time I ask Conversation Lee to present something, he starts by standing up and proclaiming “I am Conversation Lee!” Member Koo’s acceptance of his moniker has been much more gradual.

Member Koo confuses me. He has, by far, the lowest level English out of all of my club class students, and possibly out of the whole school. I’ve never seen his English scores so I can’t confirm this, but I’ve never seen him write more than a sentence in English at any time, and he’s never voluntarily spoken in class. His behavior in my normal class is almost identical to his behavior in my club class – he’s apathetic and tends to fall asleep. I’m pretty sure his original reason for joining my club class was that he got cut from the soccer club along with Conversation Lee, and Conversation dragged him along.

While everyone else writes a paragraph or two in their journals, he writes one sentence. This is a vast improvement from the first few times we did the journal, when he would just copy half of the prompt and then stop. The thing is, though he’s only writing one sentence, that sentence is getting better every week. These days he’ll ask his friends for help. He’ll ask them to translate the prompt, how to spell a word, or how to spell something. When I go help him, he’ll actually look at me, and though he may not answer my questions verbally, he’ll start writing when I leave. He smiles and waves at me in the halls, and nods when Conversation Lee yells “See you in club class!” After six weeks of giving him scrap paper to use during journal time, and hounding him about not having a notebook, he finally brought one. Granted, it has another student’s crossed-out name on it, but instead of writing his name in hangeul, or writing it in Romanized Korean, he chose to write “Member Koo.”

I don’t know what his academic background is. I don’t know how he does in his other classes. I don’t know if he’ll choose to take my club class again, in fact I’d be very surprised if he did, but I’m glad to know that my class made some sort of impact. I hope he continues to try harder and improve, not because his English level is important (though, unfortunately in Korea there is a lot – some would say too much – emphasis on English language ability), but because I like the direction he’s going in as a student. I don’t mind that his English level is relatively low, as long as he puts in some sort of effort, even if that effort consists of borrowing another student’s notebook, and writing “Member Koo” on it.

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안녕하세요! My name is Emily and when I started this blog I had received a 2010 – 2011 F*lbright grant to teach English in South Korea.  I then decided to apply to renew my grant, so I am now staying in Korea until July 2012. This blog is not an official F*lbright Program blog, and the views expressed are my own and not those of the F*lbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

I graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a degree in Philosophy Pre-Law and Classical Civilizations, and found myself 3 months later teaching English at SGHS. The town that I taught in, SG, is a small town of 12,000 people, an “읍” (eup) rather than a “시” (shi – city), and though it was sometimes hard teaching in such a small town I really enjoyed the unique experience of being the first foreign teacher SGHS had ever had. I lived in the largest part of the county which is significantly bigger (40,000 people) than the town the school is situated in, but is also considered rural by Korean standards.

During my second grant period (2011-2012) I decided to change schools and I currently teach at CPHS which is located in an even smaller town than previously, in Jeollanamdo.

This blog is meant to serve as a reflection not only of being a Native English Speaking teacher in Korea, but also of living as a foreigner in rural Korea.