They came here for education, and became fixated on faucets.

One of the topics for discussion among the 30 South Korean teachers who have spent nearly a month in Missoula now is the seeming lack of any standard faucet type in the U.S., which they found can vary widely even in the same building.

"In Korea, we all have the same faucets," said Seongock Lee, one of the guests of the English Language Institute at the University of Montana.

Her observation has both nothing and everything to do with the differences between the U.S. and South Korean approaches to teaching.

Because among the other differences these teachers discovered in their numerous hours spent in Missoula's schools is that every classroom is different, largely because teachers are far more free to teach in their own manner, and children are far more free to speak their minds.

Unlike in MCPS, South Korean teachers follow a rigid curriculum and are closely watched by their principals, said Jiyoung Kim. There is little deviation from the lesson plan.

"It can be a burden," she said. "Here, I felt more freedom to teach. The principal gave them a lot of freedom to develop their lesson plans."

All the teachers are from the Korean National University of Education, participating in the Best Practices in Teaching English as a Foreign Language program of the South Korean government. They leave Saturday to return home.

Split into small groups, the teachers spent three days a week observing Missoula teachers and students, from kindergarten to the 12th grade. They spent their mornings mostly at the University of Montana, attending sessions on teaching English as a foreign language.

All public students in South Korea are required to learn English, and must become proficient by the time they graduate from high school. They are also free to take a third language as an elective.

Students in Missoula's schools are not required to learn a new language, even in high school - but that may change soon.

***

Schools across South Korea are as similar to each other as Missoula's are different, said teacher Eunsoo Kim.

"All around Korea, it's the same size of classroom, the same curriculum, the same arrangement," he said. "Here, it varies."

While the culture is slowly shifting there, South Korean students are still largely expected to remain silent, to not challenge their teachers or even quiz them.

"In the Korean idiom," said Kim, "students can't step on the teacher's shadow."

There is a far greater emphasis in South Korea, too, on speed and the application of principles - learning not the concrete example, but the entire idea behind the example, said Jiyoung Kim.

While in Missoula, the guests also rode the Carousel, visited Yellowstone National Park, met with UM President Royce Engstrom and attended a Lady Griz game in the president's box, and toured various businesses and institutions in the Garden City.

One thing that wasn't arranged for them - or Missoulians, for that matter - was the bitter, sustained blast of winter over the last month.

Jiyoung Kim feared it when she drew Missoula as her assignment from the South Korean government.

"I cannot stand the cold," she said with a grin. "I hate winter. So I was crying. But now, I'm really happy."

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

 

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