In their first trip to Korea, some 40 students from Harlem, New York City, embarked on a two-week trip around the country meeting fellow high school students …… high-ranking government officials and Hallyu stars, and seeing historical and cultural landmarks as well as drama productions sets.
For some of these students from Democracy Prep High School, who arrived on Nov.
8 and toured the country with their supervisors, the simplest visions were the most striking.
Deion Thomas, 16, a sophomore, stated, “When I was up at the Namsan Tower observatory and could see all of Seoul before me that was really memorable.”
The Democracy Preparatory Charter School, modeled after a Korean-style education system, opened in 2006, and has slowly expanded to six campuses from kindergarten to the high-school level.
Some 82 percent of Democracy Prep students live below the poverty line.
But over the years, the students have achieved academic excellence since they work longer hours than the average New York student and also are required to learn Korean as a second language.
These students greet people with a friendly and natural “annyeong hasaeyo,” politely bow Korean-style and even hand out nifty business cards.
“On my last trip, I saw that everybody carried around business cards, and thought it would be handy for the students,” said Seth Andrew, the 32-year-old New Yorker who founded the revolutionary school in Harlem to boost the education level of under-privileged students in New York following a Korean model after his positive experience living and teaching in Korea.
So the visit was an opportunity to put the students’ Korean skills to the test.
“I was able to use some Korean here,” said Alize Smith, 17, a senior at Democracy Prep, “but I realized there are so many more vocabulary words I need to learn.”
These students, over the course of two weeks, toured historical and cultural sites such as the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea and Buddhist temples, met with the Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Lee Ju-ho, and visited the National Assembly.
They also saw schools including the SUNY Korea campus in Songdo, Incheon and Dong-seung Middle School, in Cheonan, South Chungcheong, where Andrew once taught.
He had been so impressed by the Korean education system and the values of respect that it instills that he adapted and applied the model back home.
They also enjoyed popular activities for Korean students, such as visiting the 2012 Seoul Lantern Festival, scavenger hunts with college students and a trip to the largest amusement park here Everland, in Gyeonggi.
These students, who back home have listened to K-Pop and watched Korean dramas, had a firsthand taste of Hallyu in Yongin, Gyeonggi, to visit the set of an ongoing Korean Joseon-period drama.
“My time with the Seondeok Girls’ High students was the most meaningful to me,” said Smith.
“We were paired with a student from Seondeok.
I was not with my teacher but with the Seondeok student, Choi Ji-hye.”
The Democracy Prep students spent three days at the Seondeok Girls’ High School in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, touring Jeonju and engaging in activities with the Korean students.
“We walked around the park and the city, and she explained the monuments,” said Smith, who is most interested in Korean culture and history.
“It was memorable because it wasn’t just me looking around the city, touring.
It was me learning with a student.
And I made a connection with her.”
“I taught her some American words.
She taught me some Korean words.” She held up her smartphone and said, “We’re already e-mailing each other.”
Seondeok selected 32 students based on English conversational and listening skills, but since it is an all-girls school, 10 more students were chosen from nearby Moonhwa High School, an all-boys school, to assign a buddy to each of the Democracy Prep students.
“Though it was a short time, the students became very close over the four days, and some were crying when the Democracy Prep students left.
But they all promised to keep in touch through Facebook and SNS and have already exchanged messages,” said Chang Hye-kyeong, senior teacher in charge of international cooperation at Seondeok High.
One of Seondeok High’s former English instructors after returning to the United States now teaches at Democracy Prep.
“Our school promotes open education rather than traditional Korean education, so it was a good match,” said Chang.
“And we have talked of our students visiting there in the future and also Democracy Prep students returning on a yearly basis.”
The students spent the final day in Seoul meeting with the Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Lee Ju-ho, visiting the National Assembly, touring Munhwa Broadcasting Network and having dinner with Hallyu actress Lee Young-ae, star of popular Korean drama “Daejanggeum” or “Jewel in the Palace.”
“Lee Young-ae and her husband read the story on the news,” said Andrew.
“She said, ‘how can I help?’?” He then arranged a meeting on his last trip to Korea in June.
Andrew said that the school initially had a budget for 20 students, though they wanted to bring more to Korea.
These students were supported by CJ Group and other Korean corporations.
Lee and her husband, Jeong Ho-young, sponsored 20 more students.
“They’ve been so generous,” Andrew said, regarding Lee and Jeong.
“They love the idea of the school teaching Korean values and Korean culture.
Her husband said, ‘America gave so much in the [Korean] War and the years afterwards,’ that this is a way they can give back to America.”
- Glocalization of the Korean popular culture in East Asia: Theorizing the Korean Wave (udini.proquest.com)