Teacher shares love of Korean culture

Upshur County teacher Lucy Swecker began her teaching career many miles from West Virginia.

Swecker was the recipient of a Fulbright grant, and she served as an English teaching assistant at Kyungpook National University’s Attached Elementary School in Daegu, Korea.

The Fulbright Scholar program was established by U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright in 1946. His goal was to establish cross-cultural understanding among nations. Through the program, teachers, lecturers and researchers are sent to countries across the world.

“Through my Fulbright Scholarship, I took on the role of people-to-people ambassador, exchanging culture through work as a teacher,” Swecker said. “Daegu has 2.5 million people, compared to my small-time hometown of Mill Creek.”

Swecker said she started her application process for the Fulbright Scholarship in June of her junior year at West Virginia Wesleyan College.

“After I applied – and it was an extensive application – I contacted a Korean class to become more familiar with and prepared for the possibility of going abroad,” Swecker said. “I found out in April that I would be going to South Korea and would be there for a little more than a year. I left for Korea in July (2011).”

While in Daegu, Swecker lived with a homestay family.

“My home in Korea was on the fifth floor of a high-rise apartment building in downtown Daegu,” Swecker said. “My homestay family was the Parks, a generous, loving and welcoming Korean family. At first, I was nervous about the possible communication problems caused by a novice Korean speaker living in a Korean-speaking household, but I was put at ease when my host mother, a translator, spoke to me in perfect English.”

Swecker said her host family brothers were in second and fourth grade at her school, and they often helped her by serving as interpreters. She said eating meals, celebrating holidays and experiencing daily life with a family provided a true taste of Korean culture.

“I quickly became a real member of the family,” Swecker said. “My brothers nicknamed my nationality Komerican and regularly introduced me as their older sister.”

Swecker was introduced to many Korean delicacies. Kimchi, a fermented cabbage, is Korea’s most famous dish, and it is served at each meal. Home meals feature fish, rice, kimchi and soup. School meals include kimchi, fruit, soup, meat and rice.

Along with teaching third to sixth grade in the elementary school, Swecker volunteered to tutor North Korean defectors. More than 900 defectors live in Daegu.

Swecker said she enjoyed working with the Korean students.

“I had 500 students in third through sixth grade,” Swecker said. “Schools were much like in America, where the students attend third through 12th grade before college. Koreans are quite enthusiastic about education, especially English education. Many elementary students attend hagwon (after-school learning activities) until 9 p.m. each night, and high school students study as late as 11 p.m. Education is considered essential for one’s success, and college entrance is fiercely competitive.”

Swecker said she enjoyed teaching the Korean students and host family about American traditions, such as making Christmas cards, Easter Egg hunts and the birthday song. She said students also enjoyed learning songs to practice English and liked to use the online Skype program to speak with her parents and friends.

She also said she used a $500 donation from the First Presbyterian Church in Buckhannon and donated books from the Tygart Valley Presbyterian Women and Alpha Delta Kappa to establish a library of more than 300 English and Korean books for the after-school center.

Currently, Swecker teaches third grade at Academy Elementary School in Buckhannon.

“I enjoy sharing my experiences with my students and teaching them Korean phrases,” Swecker said. “They enjoy studying Korean culture and writing letters to Korean elementary school students. It has provided them with valuable exposure to another culture, while helping them understand the importance of mutual understanding among peoples at an early age.

“My current students beg to visit Korea for our field trip and come to me speaking Korean words they have learned on their own,” she said.

“My own fourth-grade teacher, Betsy Metzler, spoke of her travels to my class. It was those stories that rooted a desire for experiencing other cultures in my heart.

I hope I am doing the same for my students,” Swecker said.