Student Heesoo Park: Teaching and Learning Peace

Heesoo Park taught English for 10 years to Korean undergraduate and graduate students. Embracing the safety of her SIT classrooms, she transferred it to a teaching practice in Thailand for her internship. As exceptionally good teachers do, she discovered parts of herself in the process of teaching, parts that exist in all of us and ones that need expression. She sees the world differently now.

It was a huge shock to teach on the Thai-Burma border, because I had never been involved in teaching situations that were politically and economically vulnerable. Mae La Refugee Camp looked peaceful, but had some tensions I did not want to feel. However, when I taught the students, talked in collaboration with other teachers, and started to feel involved in communities like World Education/Consortium and the Teacher Preparation Center in Mae La, I thought something had been missing in my life. I tried to deny it, but could not ignore the real world spread out right in front of me. As a matter of fact, I had turned a blind eye to a world full of conflicts and wrongdoings. It was painful when I had to admit I had lived with tunnel vision. Reading weekly border news, seeing dedicated office staff educating migrants and refugees, and meeting people who were committed to making the world peaceful were all rushing to me and shaking up my life. If I had taught in an ordinary educational institution in the USA during the internship, I could not have known that there was this different world I had to help and listen to.

Most of my students in the internship were Karen people who had escaped from Karen State in Burma to avoid Burmese government’s persecution. They were highly motivated to study English to be a good person for Karen State. They frequently talked about their independence and freedom from Burma. When they recalled how they had been persecuted in Burma, they expressed their fierce anger against the Burmese government. Their parents, relatives, and neighbors were exploited, tortured, and killed. I could not even breathe when I listened to their stories. In a writing activity, some of my students wrote that their dreams in five or ten years were to be a good Karen leader after going back to the homeland.

I wanted to inspire them and prepared a song for the class. I regularly used songs in the class. I especially chose one song to inspire them to help their family, friends, and homeland in the end. It was ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ by Simon & Garfunkel. The students listened to the song first, read the lyrics out loud, and sang along with each other. When they read the lyrics out loud, substituting some words for their family members, or friends, they became serious and determined. One of the students wrote in his dialogue journal that his dream was to be a good leader for his homeland in five years, and a teacher in ten years, and he read the lyric out loud by changing some words of the lyrics as follows:

When Karen people are down and out, when Karen people are on the street,
When evening falls so hard, I will comfort Karen people. I’ll take your part.
Oh, when darkness comes, and pain is all around,
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.

At present, I am not sure how this internship experience will change my life. However, it is a surprising change to me that I am now listening to the world and thinking of what I can do for it. I have come to the realization that a small step of my teaching can contribute to world peace and justice. This internship will be a starting point to know more about the world and to find out what I can do for the world.

I discovered that everything I had learned at SIT was connected and relevant to experiential teaching and learning, making its students realize that they could do something for world peace, even though it might be a very small contribution. It will have had a tremendous impact on my teaching and learning, and my life in the end. Under the umbrella of this strong impact, I am going to start to think about every concept of my teaching and learning from now on. I feel really grateful to SIT and World Education/Consortium for giving me this huge opportunity to broaden my horizons for my professional life.

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4 Responses to “Student Heesoo Park: Teaching and Learning Peace”

  1. Minhee Kang Says:

    What a thoughtful reflection! I had tears rolling down my cheeks. Tears of inspiration, tears of hope, and tears of admiration. Thank you for reminding me that teaching can be one of the most realistic ways toward social justice. You showed that a caring, competent teacher can empower students who experienced such hardships or even traumas. Thank you, Heesoo, and best wishes!

  2. Heesoo Park Says:

    Thank you for your wholehearted message! My spirit toward social justice has been growing. SIT and my internship experiences have taught me how to move on to the world with the spirit. Now, it’s time to take action!

  3. Lara Says:

    Heesoo thank you for sharing this. I see that if we listen to students, we can learn how to best give. I hope you can share this message with many people again and again.

  4. Heesoo Park Says:

    Thank you for your warm message! Now I’m back in Korea. Yes! As you say, I’ve shared my teaching and learning experience in the camp with my family, friends, and many other people. I will keep spreading what I’ve experienced in Thailand especially to young people who may not know or not have enough time to listen to what’s going on in the world. Your message really makes me rethink what I should do. Thanks a lot!

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