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First Light in Korea November 12, 2010

Posted by Matt Miller in Fulbright, Korea, Undergraduate.
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Last Sunday, I went to Homigot (호미곶), one of the easternmost points in Korea, a place where thousands gather at sunrise on January first to bask in the first light of the year. There’s a statue of a hand sticking out of the water at Homigot that is meant to catch that first light. This post catches some of the first light of my time in Korea.

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In addition to research grants that others have written about, Fulbright U.S. Student Program gives grants for teaching and cultural ambassadorship. I received one of these awards to teach American culture and English in Korea during the 2010-2011 school year.

Matt Miller with students

A photo of Matt Miller with members of the second grade class.

I teach at an all-boys Buddhist middle school in Daegu, Korea. I have over one thousand students, and every day, as you might expect, brings a new kind of fun and craziness.

I started teaching while I was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan as a volunteer at 826Michigan, the Robot Store on Liberty Street. First I tutored, then I led workshops, including a great series on dog history.

I decided to apply for a position as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Korea to share my loves of learning and of America while living and discovering in the Land of the Morning Calm, far from home and what I had experienced previously. Those expectations have proved realistic and immensely fulfilling, though I could not have imagined the specifics before I left.

Last spring I received the Fulbright award and graduated with an A.B. in history. Now, I’m here in Korea. I arrived, appropriately enough, on July 4th. After a very helpful and gratifying six week orientation, I moved here to Daegu and began teaching at Neungin Middle School. My focus is on giving the boys at Neungin great classes that are fun, exciting, and informative. But I do much more than teach middle school, both in and out of the Fulbright program. This week alone, for example, I led a workshop for teachers at my school on education in American inner-cities, hiked in mountains alive with fall color, ran a program at the U.S. Embassy-sponsored American corner at the local library, and helped a friendly retired stranger on the subway with his English studying.

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It’s Friday afternoon here, and the torrent of students popping into my classroom on their way out has slowed to a trickle. Before I buckle down and finish planning next week’s lessons, I should mention what we’ve done in class this week. First grade, which would be roughly seventh in America, had a lesson about high school. I lectured on and we discussed high school in America. The highlight of this part of the lesson was a game of true or false for Mr. Miller’s high school, complete with pictures from my school days. Then students, in pairs, designed their own dream high schools using the vocabulary covered in the lesson.

Second grade played a game called You Hear, You Say. Each student received a card with a You Hear line and a You Say line. When the student heard his You Hear line, he said his You Say line. Together, back to back, these lines made up songs and skits.

Korean students

Students at the Neungin Middle School.

Once the class got the hang of it, we would try for speed, then watch a video of what they read: “American Pie,” “Afternoon Delight,” a “Pinky and the Brain” tongue twister, and, best of all, “Hail to the Victors.”

Third grade did a lesson on Post Secret, the heartfelt Web site of secrets and commiseration. After learning about secrets, the students wrote down and illustrated their own, often very earnestly.

Now, I’m off to lesson plan and enjoy autumn in Korea.

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