Thirty U.S. secondary school teachers, representing 11 states and multiple subject areas, came to Stanford for a three-day professional development conference that seeks to help teachers better incorporate Korean studies in the classroom.
Korea is arguably one of the most stable democracies in the world and its economic model often praised. Yet Korea-focused curriculum in the United States rarely covers much outside of the Korean War context, leaving a potential gap in students’ understanding of the Pacific nation. The Hana–Stanford Conference on Korea seeks to change that reality.
In its fourth year, the conference offers a venue for specialists on Korea to share knowledge with secondary school educators and creates an opportunity for educators to form a cross-cultural professional network toward the vision of enhancing their curriculum with Korean studies.
For three days, scholars from Stanford and peer institutions taught the U.S. teachers about Korean history, economy, culture and the nation's regional and global relations. Speakers included economist Yong Lee and career diplomat David Straub, both scholars at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (APARC), as well as Middlebury professor Rachael Miyung Joo, also a Stanford alum. Teachers and students from Hana Academy Seoul, a private high school in Korea, also shared perspectives with the American teachers. The full agenda is viewable here.
Supported by the Hana Financial Group, the conference is organized by Shorenstein APARC and the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE), a program that makes globally focused Stanford research accessible to K–12 grade levels.
SPICE’s Jonas Edman and Rylan Sekiguchi followed the lectures with curriculum demonstrations. Each teacher left the conference with a set of comprehensive lesson plans and strategies for putting the curriculum into practice.
Shorenstein APARC caught up with a few of the teachers (pictured below from right to left): Anne Schaefer from San Jose Middle School (Novato, CA), Orah Bilmes from Alvarez High School (Providence, RI), and Jeffrey Scharfen and Graham Rutherford from Cardinal Newman High School (Santa Rosa, CA). An abridged version of the conversation is below.
What has surprised you about Korea?
Anne: The process it took for Korea to have such strong economic growth—so quickly—and to understand all of the components that led to that growth really surprised me. Moving from an autocratic regime through many stages to where it is today, and the interesting role that education played in its development. Education really became a motivating factor for everybody. I found that a very unique, complex phenomenon.
Jeffrey: Hearing from scholars from both Korea and the United States about the Korean experience has given me a better sense of history. For instance, the Korean-American experience in Los Angeles during the 1992 Rodney King riots. I remember being there during those riots. For me, they were defining moments, but on the other hand, I never truly had a sense of the powerful impact it had on the Korean community.
What Korean cultural themes can U.S. students most relate to? Do your students consume Korean culture?
Orah: I teach many students from the Dominican Republic. One of the presentations gave me ideas for putting together activities for students to compare baseball in the Dominican Republic with baseball in Korea. When comparing cultures, starting with something that’s accessible allows students to develop the vocabulary needed to jump into higher-level discussions.
Jeffrey: My students are very connected to Korean pop themes. My own awareness actually comes from my own children and a student that I’ve taught who was adopted from Korea. For that student, Korean pop culture gave her a sense of identity and her interests emanated, so there was a multiplying factor and her friends became interested too.
Kimchi…you learned how to make the dish and sampled it, too. How’d it go?
Graham: I enjoyed watching and seeing how kimchi is made. It’s more than a name, it has this place in society. I’ve had kimchi before but it was neat to see and hear about its background. The variety of styles was surprising. And it was really good with rice.
Jeffrey: I love kimchi. I think I was first introduced to kimchi in 1973 and I’ve been eating it regularly since then. It’s one of those culinary pleasures that breaks down barriers and gives you an entrée into other relationships. In a way, it’s a kind of diplomacy.
Anne: The culture of kimchi as a family thing – having one’s own set of tastes and different ingredients depending on family history was fun to learn about. The conference made apparent that culinary history is important and creates an understanding of a culture.
What’s one lesson from the conference you’d share with other teachers?
Orah: I teach many immigrant and refugee students. For some, they left behind very poor countries. The information on Korea’s economic policies and history has my head spinning to have students try to “apply” the Korean economic approach to their home countries, analyze its strengths and weaknesses, and decide if one country’s approach can also work for another.
Anne: One of the tangential themes was that, despite all the talk of globalization, culture continues to exist in Korea and other countries. The Internet connects everyone, but I go to “this place” and it’s still “this place.” Culture—and the fact that we can still retain it even in today’s globalized world—is truly beautiful.
Graham: I try to get my students to not just look back at the problems they are studying but to also put themselves back into the time period—to realize that the decisions made then have to be understood in that moment in time. North Korea can be examined through that lens. And while it’s easy to look back and see the problems, it’s also worth encouraging students to look ahead and consider how the Korean divide could be solved.