Pusan Joint-Workshop 2007

I had such a great experience visiting Busan and meeting the Korean English teachers Group.  I believe that I’d rather see a completely different culture and society than that of my own when I travel abroad.  I thought that Korea would be too similar to Japan; there would be few things to get excited about.  However, I now realize that this was merely an assumption. Actually, this was one of the best trips I’ve ever had loaded with stimulating and interesting discoveries.

First of all, the people I met at the workshop were very inspirational.  I usually try to familiarize my students with the outline of a story first and then check for understanding during a lesson.  Thus, I was quite impressed that you study how to teach “critical reading” as the main theme of the year.  I really liked your overview of a lesson and the plans that focused on the goals to be achieved.  It seems to me that you teach higher level vocabulary in Korean middle schools; I wish I had more opportunity to discuss how the students comprehend what they are learning.  It was also interesting to exchange the opinions on having an English native-speaker in a lesson.  In the meanwhile, my children were playing in a playroom. I thought they were supposed to be sitting quietly or doing homework during the workshop, so I was surprised that you have all the facilities – a conference room, a kid’s room and a library – in the same building.  You also informed that you have a study meeting in this building every week. I admire your passion for teaching and feel envious towards your study environment. Your command of English seems beyond ours.

Secondly, I really appreciate you showing us around town. The tour we made to the international market was intriguing. I was curious about all the vendors I saw and wondered what they were selling.  My children’s favorite spot was “Busan Tower”.  After worrying about the typhoon as we traveled to Korea, it was a relief and quite relaxing looking out at the magnificent view from the tower.  The best part of the tour was eating the Korean food. The roasted meat and the cold noodles were delicious. I enjoyed observing the way Koreans eat their meals. Also, I enjoyed sitting and chatting in a Korean café.  I must add that the dinner we had on the second day was amazing.  I regret becoming full too quickly and could not finish the entire meal.  I really enjoyed the conversations we had together.  I was able to recognize a few Korean words such as “muryo” (for free), “kento” (to think about) and “shinsa” (to investigate).  We have these words in the Japanese language as well with similar pronunciation.  It is funny that I didn’t even realize before that you drive on the right hand side in Korea; that you have a unique way of counting your age.  Thus, this cultural exchange was very informative.

The highlight of the trip was visiting the Korean schools and observing the actual class.  On Sunday, we visited the prestigious high-tech school – “Hegan” high school – in Busan.  I was relieved when we arrived at Hegan after traveling through heavy rain and strong wind.  It was interesting to see all the small displays at the entrance of each classroom.  It is noteworthy that students showed ID cards with the displays in order to facilitate the task of taking attendance by the teachers. Some rooms within the school were highly computerized and quite sophisticated. In the future, this technologically-driven pilot program at Hegan will spread throughout the nation.  

On Monday morning, we visited “Namil” middle school. First, the principal and vice-principal met us and gave us a brief introduction of the school. To my surprise, the documents he used during his introduction were written in Japanese.  Later, I discovered that the students learn Japanese as a third language at the school.  Our school culture is the same in that we too have school lunch, cleaning time and morning reading sessions in Japan.  I was also impressed by your Chinese “four letter phrases” morning sessions, and your lessons with handicapped children so that students can increase their awareness about inclusiveness.  

Ms. Jang’s demonstration lesson began after we were introduced to all the staff members.  The class size was about the same as our school.  This lesson was teaching students about cultural differences and similarities.  Ms. Jang began her lesson by showing the students a DVD.  I noticed a big display in the classroom that resembled the displays I saw at Hegan high school.  I was a little shocked when I saw her connecting a laptop in the classroom to be used as a teaching tool.  Most teachers in Japan still bring heavy picture cards to the classroom; we need to bring a projector, a screen, a laptop and even an extension cord when we show a video clip.  It is time-consuming and almost impossible to prepare these teaching tools during the short interval between lessons.  I was very surprised by how communicative students were.  Most students appeared to understand the outline of the natural conversation clip.  Also, Ms. Jang seemed to be speaking naturally to the students, and most students were able to answer her questions quickly without hesitation.  In the lesson, comparisons between Korean and American culture were made through listening, dictating, and reading exercises.  Then each of us joined a group where the students interviewed us regarding some elements of Japanese culture and school life.  Once again, the students were friendly and communicative, and I was happy to be included in this part of the lesson.

I appreciate the hard work and energy all the teachers used while preparing for this workshop.  I was thrilled and will never forget meeting you, experiencing Korean culture firsthand, and observing your schools.  I can’t believe we accomplished all that we did in just 3 days!  Before coming to Korea, I thought Japanese teachers were doing our best in our country where English is not spoken; learning English for entrance exams in mandatory.  However, I now realize that your success in the same task appears better despite the similar learning environments of both countries.  I am left now with numerous questions regarding how Korea has managed to accomplish its language education goals – How can you make such an impact on Korean students and their desire to learn English?  How do you teach English in the elementary grades?  How is it possible to obtain government funding for such rigorous education initiatives when there is a global economic recession? Although we had numerous chats and stimulating conversations, I am still left with a lot of unanswered questions.  I apologize if this report is too long.  I do hope to keep in touch with you, and it is my wish to continue learning from your model of English education.


Nakamura Tomoko
Nagayo Second Junior High School