Korean exchange teachers open new worlds in Billings classrooms

2011-01-13T00:00:00Z 2014-08-25T07:55:28Z Korean exchange teachers open new worlds in Billings classroomsBy ROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette

The first order of business was setting the students straight.

On her first day in class, Ji Jeong Ha, an exchange English teacher from South Korea, was asked by a Lewis and Clark Middle School eighth-grader if they had televisions where she comes from.

"I asked them, 'How many of you have LG or Samsung cell phones?'" she said. "About two-thirds of the class raised their hands. 'We make those,' I told them."

Ha — the students call her Jenny — is one of 28 Korean teachers visiting Billings School District 2 as part of an exchange program with South Korea's Ministry of Education. The goal is to immerse the teachers in American culture to help them better learn English.

"You guys speak so fast," Ha said with a laugh.

Ha comes from Guang Ju where she teaches middle school English. She arrived in the U.S. in August, and she and her 27 counterparts joined real college English classes in Powell and Cody, Wyo.

"It was my first time to study with American college students," she said. "I had a really hard time."

The learning curve was steep, and she found she got a little discouraged those first few weeks. But then the language started to come, and she realized that to help her students back in South Korea master English, she would need to follow a similar course and immerse them as best she could with "real English."

After the semester in Wyoming, Ha and her colleagues traveled to Billings, where they've been teaching since the first of the year. They'll return home on Feb. 4.

The students in Ha's English classes at Lewis and Clark have had a great time with her.

"The kids have just fallen in love with her," said Nancy Heald, an English teacher at the school. It's her class in which Ha is teaching.

"She's really nice," said eighth-grader Jaci Juarez.

And, Juarez said, interacting with Ha daily in the classroom has helped erase some stereotypes she and other students have had.

"You learn a bunch of stuff you didn't know about," said classmate Alli Kieckbusch.

"It's a cool way to learn about a different culture, a different people," said John Lamdin.

In a similar way, Ha has learned a lot from her students.

"I thought the American students would be really rude," she said. "But I found they had a real interest in me."

And in a places like Wyoming and Montana, where the population is small and there's not a lot of diversity, foreign exchanges like this can help enrich the students' school experience, Ha said.

In class, Ha has introduced the students to Korean folk tales and frightened them with tales of 12-hour school days.

"The one thing I envy about this school is the class size," Ha said.

Her school in South Korea has many more students in a class than a typical middle school classroom in Billings.

She also said the technology here isn't as good as what she has back home. Still, she tells the students how lucky they are to speak English and have the opportunities they have in a public school setting.

Ha will be eager to get back home and employ what she's learned here, but she'll also be a little bummed to leave Lewis and Clark.

"It's fun," she said.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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