Written by Yoogeun Choi, Fulbright American Studies Program Grant Recipient ’07-08 *

Working as an English teacher had been a burden to me until I arrived in Austin. Honestly, I was nearly about to quit, or change my job. I have learned English for almost 20 years since middle school, but the only thing I was good at was reading articles. In my classes, I felt disappointed and frustrated so often that I was, in some sense, desperate to look for a breakthrough for my life.

However, every cloud, as we have known it, does have a silver lining. I got to hear from a teacher about the Texas Program, which made my eyes open wide. I was so excited that I decided to apply for it without any hesitation.

I remember I was full of excitement when I finally took my first step in Austin, Texas, after long, long hesitations and expectations. In the first week there, I was very anxious and nervous because I was not sure I could finish this course successfully, and in fact, also had some difficulty adjusting myself to the new environment including food, language and the strange people there because it was my only time abroad except for my short honeymoon trip to Guam, and I didn’t have much confidence in my English.

The wonderful and talented teachers in TIEC (Texas International Education Consortium), however, led me to get over my worries, and took me to some good places where I could feel confident and safe. They are the most dedicated, enthusiastic and skilled teachers I’ve ever seen in the world. Not a single moment was spent there without learning something about English, methodology and American culture. I learned many precious things from them, such as how to make the classroom atmosphere smooth and pleasant, encourage bored students to participate in class actively and especially how to use English in English classes properly.

During the four weeks of wonderful learning in TIEC, the 27 participants, including me, were sent all around Texas mostly in pairs to experience school life in an American school and American culture in an American family, which were the most demanding but also the most brilliant experiences in Texas. For two weeks in Denton, Texas, I made almost 10 presentations of 90 minutes about Korean culture in Denton High School and Texas Women’s University. During all of my presentations with my partner, there was just one student who fell asleep, believe it or not. In addition, I could live a real American life with my host family. The family members and I were so busy running here and there to learn and introduce each other’s culture. Those experiences of making presentations before many native English speakers and doing a homestay with an American family had a tremendous impact on my confidence as an English teacher.

After finishing the whole journey, I felt as if I were born again. I couldn’t find fancier words than the expression “being born again” for my wonderful experiences in Texas. Now I don’t feel worried about any situation where I should speak English, whether in my classroom or not. Who could imagine with seven weeks, a shy and unconfident English speaker can be turned into a brave and skilled one? Now I really appreciate the teachers in TIEC, my host family, the students in Denton and the staff members in KAEC. They all are like eye-openers and lifesavers to me.

Now I always dream of going back to Austin, where I left my heart. Someday  when my 22-month daughter grows enough to stand a long flight to Austin, I should go there to have my heart and life beat lively again.

* Fulbright American Studies Institute for Korean Secondary School Teachers of English

This program started in 2002 to provide participants with a deeper understanding of American culture and life and to provide experience in American public education, particularly ESL methodologies and practices. The goal is to strengthen English curricula and to improve the quality of teaching about the United States at secondary schools in Korea. It is designed as an intensive rigorous seminar for an experienced group of secondary school teachers for seven weeks. It also includes both an academic residency period and a secondary school site residency period for two weeks. The target applicants for this program are secondary school English teachers who are from ETA host schools.