An American Educator in South Korea

We welcome you to our new series! If you are reading this you have stumbled upon something truly special! Today we proudly introduce to you Maria Mataragas, one of our volunteers (you may remember her as the Fortune Teller at last years Halloween Romp amongst other roles.) We are pleased that Ms. Mataragas has agreed to let us into the life of a traveling education innovator! Teacher is a position of highest value in all cultures. Every country and person around the world is shaped by the knowledge, passion and kindness of this special group of dedicated individuals! With the economy here in the states leaving something to be desired and less steady jobs available more and more of our recently graduated and young teachers are answering the call of duty in nations across the globe. The lure of steady pay and the adventure of travel can seem almost too good to be true
Maria is a passionate educator whose involvement in teaching has carried her from one side of the Earth to the other. She now makes her home in Gangneung, South Korea, bringing lessons she learned in the states and at the Museum to the upcoming generation of enthusiastic learners! Her love of innovative teaching techniques and hands on learning through engagement makes her a leader of a new generation of teachers! Maria will be contributing articles for us about education & culture. She will also be twittering for us, keeping us all up to date on what’s going on in international education and answering any and all of your questions! Check her out Without further adieu, here she is! ——————————————————————————————–
Education is of special value. Whether it is teaching a large or a small class, the key point of success in education is to have the students trust you. Once trust is placed, everything else is easy. This is how I felt in America. I was a Title I Reading Tutor in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. The school I instructed was the most beautiful, well organized and above all, caring environment I’ve ever worked in. This school inspired me to become an educator. The love I feel for teaching was equally matched to the love I hold for traveling.
With the recession, my job for Title I Reading was cut. As I joined others for the enormous job hunt, many websites about teaching abroad jumped directly unto my attention. The itch for travel became stronger with every resume, cover letter and email I sent to companies, schools and other businesses. Finally, the decision to teach abroad was apparent. I applied. I got the job. I left. I teach in Solol (straight pine tree of the sea) Middle School in Gangneung, South Korea. The school is very professional, very strict with guidelines for students to abide. Guidelines such as uniforms, hair length, types of glasses and shoes are targeted and must be followed. Individuality and expressing oneself through creativity is prohibited. Studying for the purpose of exams is education according to my school. If a student breaks the rules punishment is physically severe, something which an American parent would never tolerate.
Korean students have a mounting pressure put upon them due to competitive reputations. South Korea is a community based country; everything is done together and shared. Every family name is known in this association of people and neighborhood. If a child succeeds or fails, the reflection is upon the parent’s ability or inability to provide for their child’s education. The only way to prevent their reputation from being tarnished in the community is to send their children to private schools until the late evening. For example, my students come to school at 8 a.m., stay for an after-school program until 4:30 p.m., then go to a private school for each subject that they are not passing. They don’t go home until 11:30 p.m. I’m an American and I know what it’s like to be a child and get dirty with scraped knees. That is the spirit of being a child. American children are allowed to run wild with their imaginations, get paint on their cheeks and have gum stuck in their hair. Being a teacher to American children means I get to understand them more, help guide them to achieve any dream they want, as long as they know they can do it. Being a teacher in South Korea, the freedom to choose, the freedom to express, the freedom to get dirty and get to understand the children is not entirely there, because their future is already molded for them. These children are only allowed to study and work. From an American point of view, their childhood is taken away from them; however from a South Korean point of view, their future is being built.

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  1. Anonymous on May 21, 2009 at 7:20 am

    Great article! I never knew what the average day of children living in South Korea consisted of. It does seem a bit harsh, but the way you put it at the end there made perfect sense. They may not have a childhood, but their parents certainly are building their future. Keep the writing up American Educator!

  2. Anonymous on May 22, 2009 at 1:38 am

    great article, i loved the way it was written. its great to see you having such a full understanding of how things are different between America and SK and understanding that its not so much a difficulty, but rather just a different way of doing things. keep up the good work!
    -Dan S.

  3. Kimberly on May 24, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    well-written and very thoughtful. you show the juxtaposition of the different educational cultures very clearly and respectfully. keep up the good work! looking forward to reading more of your writing!

  4. Randall_Kimball on May 27, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    Hey Maria. It’s Randy. I just want to say that this was a very good piece you just wrote. I agree with what you said about your take on the Korean education system. It’s not just in Korea, but in all of Asia, and in many other countries around the world. Education isn’t just seen as an expansion of one’s mind, but it’s used as competition, and in some cases, a weapon used against children.

    As teachers, we have to push to our children that education is non-threatening, but as a creative outlet. I think being in Asia makes it that much more difficult, but I still believe it’s possible.

    Thank you for sharing your insight with us. I am looking forward to more stories from you. Way to go Maria!

  5. Marla on May 28, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    Excellent article Maria! I’m so proud of you and your work! I too, as you know, left the easy comfort of living in America, and took a position in Athens, Greece. The experiences are priceless and know that not only are you impacting the lives of children around the world, but they are also leaving their “mark” on you. As we all know, “multiculturalism” is a concept they try to teach in the United States in order to increase awareness about differnt cultures and appreciating them…good for you for living that experience!!!

  6. Aa' Madan on July 1, 2009 at 8:28 am

    great article, i loved the way it was written. visit back yoa..

  7. Pamela Kalas on July 14, 2009 at 12:27 am

    I Love Your Piece. I have a much better understanding of the Korean culture. There life is very sheltered and I would say stressful to always have to learn for 12 hours or more everyday. Success is only succeeded when you live the life you want. Not the one that makes an impression. I hope your not working and enjoying yourself because I know just you being there your living the life you want. I love you!

    Pamela Kalas