By Margaret Garcia

Dr. Osman Özturgut, (far right) and Dr. Gregory Soukup gather with UIW students travelling to Korea this summer.

Once in a lifetime was just one of the ways students at the University of the Incarnate Word described their excitement about an upcoming trip abroad.  Since 2008, UIW has been providing students an opportunity to participate in an all-expense paid trip to Gwangju, Korea to teach English to Korean children at the elementary and middle school levels.  When the City of Gwangju became an official sister city with San Antonio in 1981, a component to the agreement called for educational collaboration between the cities.  As a result, Gwangju and UIW signed a memorandum of understanding creating this program.

Under the supervision of Dr. Javier Lozano, director of sister school partnerships, the program has given many UIW students the opportunity to teach English in Korea while learning more about the culture.  Since its inception, more than 40 UIW students have taken advantage of this opportunity and parlayed it not only into a great educational experience but for some even a new career path.

“Students who participate in this program return with much more than a better understanding of the Korean culture and teaching overseas. They also return with new ideas on making a positive difference at UIW and in their community,” Lozano said.  This year’s trip is set for July 27 through August 18 but prior to making the trip, students must attend a 60-hour intensive teacher training course presented by Dr. Osman Özturgut, associate professor in UIW’s Dreeben School of Education.

“This is not a program that starts in Korea but here at UIW,” said Özturgut.  “I train these students not only for them to be effective language teachers but also to spread our Mission. These students are leaders with global perspectives.”

“They are hardworking, dedicated and passionate individuals with strong educational qualifications, carrying the Mission of UIW to East Asia. I cannot tell you how proud I am as a faculty member with the quality of our students. They truly become ambassadors for UIW and I am always honored to be part of their experiences,” said Özturgut.

The goal of the program is for Korean students to interact and learn from native English speakers, while offering UIW students the opportunity to engage and learn more about the Korean culture.  Approximately 300 Korean students, ages eight to 14, participate in the three-week camp each year. The students are taught all subjects, from math to music, during the three-week period all in English by UIW students.

Juan Rodriguez, UIW senior accounting major, said his original intention was to participate in the program as a resume booster, a way to set him apart from other job applicants after graduation while getting the global experience necessary for business students. Instead, he got a life changing experience and is now preparing to spend a second summer in Korea.

“Words can’t express how cool it was. I will always be grateful for the experience,” said Rodriguez.  “It will open up doors in ways you don’t even know.  They have very high expectations of us as teachers and we are treated as professionals. It is a responsibility that we must live up to.”

This will be the first UIW study abroad experience for Trinidad Macias, a UIW Ph.D. student studying international education and entrepreneurship.  She was approached by Özturgut about the trip and immediately applied for the program.  “I’m very excited about the opportunity.  I’m not sure what to expect but I am looking forward to being fully immersed in the Korean culture.”

In preparation for the trip, students meet with others who have previously taught in Korea.  The students share their experiences and challenges including engaging the Korean children, and erasing American stereotypes.  Students have shared creative ways to teach American culture including demonstrating the Chicken Dance during music class which brings smiles all around or playing American games during physical education.

While in Korea, the UIW students also meet as a group to compare experiences and share ideas about what techniques work with the children and which ones do not.  They also prepare for one of the most memorable experiences of the trip, a 24-hour homestay with a Korean family, a time when they are fully immersed into the Korean culture.  For Rodriguez the homestay was a life changing experience.

“The food was incredible, the country was beautiful and I learned a great deal from my host family and the students I taught.”  In fact, he was so moved by the experience Rodriguez is even thinking about teaching abroad as a career, something he never thought about doing before his trip to Korea. The experience changes lives on both sides of the globe.