Mercer team teaches English and engineering to North Korean refugees

The children of the alternative school in South Korea faced a linguistic and emotional barrier. But after 2.5 weeks with Mercer students and faculty, their comfort and confidence in interacting with others increased.

During the sixth Mercer On Mission trip to South Korea, the Mercer Group worked with 36 children at Drim School, located 96 km south of the capital Seoul. The students there are North Korean refugees or the children of North Korean refugees living in China, and their backgrounds and past traumatic experiences can make it difficult for them to assimilate into the local culture, said the biomedical engineering professor, the Dr Sinjae Hyun, who started the program. program in 2015.

In South Korea, children must be proficient in English to enter the traditional school system. Mandarin has been the main language for many students at Drim School since they spent much of their childhood in China.

Dr. Hyun and faculty members Dr. Donald Ekong, Lisa Kang, and Dr. Scott Schultz accompanied 21 Mercer students to South Korea, where they taught English and engineering skills to Korean students. They spent a week before the trip preparing lesson plans.

“Just meeting them and learning more about them was a great experience,” said Derrick Swinford, who graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in May. “But then the teaching itself was so much fun because every student every day came in wanting to learn and happy to be there. By the end, we all felt like a happy family.

Mercer and Drim school groups are shown together. The banner reads “A Creative Engineering Camp in Korea with Mercer University: Imagining a Reunited Korea”. Photo courtesy of Dr Sinjae Hyum

Each Mercer student taught English lessons designed for one of six skill levels, as well as activities for one of three engineering programs: Application Design and Development, Lego Robotics, and Scanning and Printing 3D.

Kang, academic advisor and assessment coordinator for the School of Business and former faculty member of Mercer’s English Language Institute, led the English portion of the program. She provided advice to Mercer students on how to most effectively teach English as a second language, “break the ice” early on with Korean students, and keep them engaged. Daily instruction has created an English language foundation that children can continue to build on.

“Our goal is to teach them English as a foreign language, but at the same time it’s greater exposure to English culture and the language itself so they’re more comfortable interacting with native speakers,” Kang said. “Our Mercer students stay on campus with the North Korean refugee children. These two weeks represent a lot of exposure for our students as well as for the students of the Drim school. Building this relationship helps (Korean) students learn English and our Mercer students experience Korean culture.

Swinford taught the first level of English lessons and helped students learn about colours, animals, actions and nature. On the last day, they did a “build your own zoo” where children chose paper cutouts of animals for their paper zoo and described them in English, he said.

“At the end of the day, I was really proud of my students because they were able to converse quite comfortably,” said Kendall Ross, a double major in journalism and criminal justice, who taught level three English. “I was really proud of the progress they made in such a short time. It was really nice to see as a first-time teacher.

Dr. Schultz, Senior Associate Dean of the School of Engineering, led the Lego robotics classes, in which participants built robots and then programmed them to complete challenges like an obstacle course and a wrestling match. robots.

“The goal is not to make them expert programmers but to expose them to technology,” he said.

The 3D printing element, led by Dr. Hyun, was a bit different from previous trips, when participants worked on 3D face models for the visually impaired. This year, students from Mercer and Drim schools collaborated with a South Korean non-governmental organization on a project called Remembering Korean War Heroes. They created plaques with 3D faces for 11 Korean veterans and presented them to those people in a ceremony at the South Korean Congress.

“They were very grateful that we remembered their sacrifice,” Dr Hyun said. “During the reunion, these veterans told our students that they thank them for remembering them. It was a very emotional moment that we had.

Additionally, they created two plaques for American Korean War veterans: Dr. Schultz’s father-in-law, Conard Tharpe, and the late Dr. Paul Cable, former Professor Mercer. The plaque honoring Dr. Cable’s service will be presented to his two sons during a Mercer On Mission program at 11 a.m. Aug. 25 in the University Center Presidents Dining Room on the Macon campus.

The plaque project will continue from the Mercer campus, as Dr. Hyun and his students make plaques of appreciation for fallen and missing Korean War soldiers. In his research, Dr. Hyun discovered that more than 350 Georgians died during the Korean War, and that 150 of them are listed as missing (MIA). The plan is to make 10 plaques during the fall semester for Georgia MIAs. Students will select soldiers from a database and begin working after receiving permission from family members to use their photos.

The Application Design and Development class was new to this year’s trip and led by Dr. Ekong, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Students at Drim School created simple smartphone apps and used their English skills to give short presentations about them.

“The Mercer students on my team, I was impressed with their ability,” Dr. Ekong said. “When they were teaching the class, they gave me feedback and I could see that they took the initiative to move this class forward.”

Ross said the trip gave her the opportunity to learn about coding — something she’s always been interested in — and do something outside of her major. She helped Drim students build games, working flashlights, and a sound card during the app design course. She incorporated elements into lessons that students were interested in, such as anime, to keep them engaged.

The Mercer Group is pictured at Busan Palace, South Korea.
The Mercer group is represented at the Bulguksa temple. Photo courtesy of Derrick Swinford

Apart from their time at the Drim School, the Mercer group visited museums, enjoyed local cuisine, hit the beach in Busan, met with officials at the Capitol, and visited the Hana Foundation, which supports refugees north -Koreans. They also visited two Korean army bases and attended a ceremony for the army’s excavation project to find the remains of Korean War soldiers.

“Getting more of this Korean culture and opportunities to explore and experience this culture…was really a valuable experience for the students and for ourselves,” Kang said. “A lot of our students say Mercer On Mission is their reason. It’s a decision maker for them to choose Mercer. I think it’s the same for a lot of employees here, myself included. Being able to have the opportunity like this to make a difference, to be the change for the global community, that’s huge.

Swinford decided to join the Mercer On Mission trip because of her Korean roots – her maternal grandmother was born and raised in Busan – and the opportunity to make a difference.

“I wanted to help give back to a world that has given me so much,” he said. “I wanted to be able to go somewhere where I could do good and use some of the things that I had learned and given in my life in a positive way.”

Ross, who received funding for the trip through the Gilman scholarship, said she has a great passion for Korean culture and has been studying the language for four years. The Mercer On Mission trip allowed her to have a study abroad experience while being supported by a group. She enjoyed experiencing the Korean culture of community and togetherness.

Ross practiced his Korean skills extensively while the group was sightseeing. As one of the few Mercer students who knew Korean, she was sometimes the representative who spoke on behalf of the group. It was an experience that challenged her and pushed her out of her comfort zone, she said.

“It was my first time overseas and the first time I felt like I had made a difference in a community in a really tangible way,” Ross said. “I found that my way of life changed in such a short time. I want to push myself further and travel to other countries and even work there. It kind of certified that I want to work with minority populations and help people less fortunate than me.

Feature photo: The Mercer Group is pictured atop the N Seoul Tower. Photo courtesy of Derrick Swinford

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