Lesson Plan III: Trip to Korea 2012

Lesson Plan III: Personal/Social Development

By Eileen C. Feikens

Director of College Guidance at Dwight-Englewood School, New Jersey

Area Addressed: Personal/Social Development

Target Level: High School students

Background: During my trip to Korea with Sejong Cultural Education, Inc. I observed many aspects of Korean culture that empowered me to understand the subtle differences between Korean and American social practices. By visiting several Korean schools and through conversations with Korean high school and university students I learned that these differences are often misunderstood. My takeaway was a deeper appreciation for the challenges that face Korean students in the American school culture, especially during the college application process.

Purpose: To enhance understanding of college counseling professionals and educators as they interact with students from Korea.

Education: Status and respect are paramount values in Korean society. As Korean students transition to American school culture, they often continue to portray accepted Korean modes of behavior that are misunderstood by their peers and instructors. The frontal teaching model most frequently used in Korean schools set a tone of respectful passivity for students, which conflicts with the interactive and seminar style of environments they enter in American classrooms. In Korea, students consider it impolite to challenge the ideas presented by their teachers, thus they are prone to remain more reticent in the classroom. It is important for American teachers to recognize their Korean students' reluctance to speak out or to proactively engage in dialogue is a sign of respect.

In Classroom environments:

-Korean schools emphasize testing over class participation in evaluating student performance.

Teachers can set up individual meetings at the beginning of the year or term to establish rapport with their Korean students, and explain the importance and expectation that students engage in the classroom dialogue.

-Korean students may feel insecure about how they appear to others, especially with regards to their understanding of material. Korean students are less likely to ask questions which may reflect their confusion or lack of knowledge. Questioning for clarification should be strongly and frequently encouraged.

-Due to non-native English speaking skills, Korean students often spend a longer time translating their reading and writing assignments than their American peers. Teachers of subjects that are in the humanities can encourage meeting with the students and their English teachers to assist these students in their approach to this reading comprehension and writing. Korean students may be intentionally paired with American students in team or group assignments, as opposed to other Korean students, so as to encourage English conversation skills.

-American history is not taught at many Korean elementary schools. Thus Korean students often lack a firm grounding in this area, which create challenges for them, not only in history classes, but when references are drawn in class discussions in other subjects. This can lead to an increase in anxiety and isolation for Korean students.

In College Counseling:

-University admission in Korea is heavily weighted on entrance exams. College counseling professionals should be aware that many Korea families will focus more strongly on testing results (SAT, ACT) than on the more qualitative aspects of a student's college applications. Korean families will not be aware of the importance colleges place on extracurricular involvement and personal development. If possible, it would be optimal to have focused meetings or outreach to the Korean family community to outline the differences between the college application processes.

-Demonstrated interest and visiting of colleges to determine the best "fit" for a student is often overlooked by Korean families. Research and college tour participation should be strongly encouraged.

-Because status is very important in Korean culture, more well known colleges, such as the Ivy League, will be more popular with Korean families, with the expectation that if their child earns a "perfect" score on their Board scores, admission is guaranteed. This myth needs to be addressed early and often.

-Many colleges encourage applicants to interview at some point in the college application process. Body language and conversational skills are important factors in how students perform in these interviews. Because sustained eye contact is not encouraged in Korean social situations, students often lower their gaze. This can be misconstrued as insecurity or insincerity in American social exchanges. Korean students should be specifically coached in making eye contact. Korean students will need to practice interviewing skills to become comfortable speaking about themselves: their accomplishments, interests and goals. Such conversation is often seemed as self-promoting" or "bragging"in Korea, which is highly discouraged.

While these suggestions are focused on my observations during my trip to Korea, I recognize that they may also benefit students from other cultures. The need to be understood is shared by all people, regardless of one's native culture. It is through our ability to empathize and to successfully communicate that defines us as human beings. As educators, our efforts will be greatly benefitted by our ability to relate to our students and to understand the context in which their behavior and goals are shaped.