A South Korean Scholar Teaches Her Language in Mississippi
By BETH MCMURTRIE
When Chongnan Chin first stepped onto the campus of Tougaloo College, she
admits, she was a bit disappointed to see such old buildings. In South Korea, the focus is on building new things, like shiny skyscrapers and
big office buildings.
But then she began to learn about what exactly was being
preserved: a history of Jackson, Miss., and of black America.
Now, says Ms. Chin, she loves to stroll around the grounds
and find a quiet corner in which to read. And she is eager to learn more about
the civil-rights era, in which Tougaloo played a part.
"I'd like to take courses in black history, and I'd
like to talk with black faculty and black students about it," says Ms.
The college is equally glad to have Ms. Chin. She is there
on a Fulbright fellowship, teaching the first Korean-language course to be
offered on the historically black campus.
"I tell you, I'm having a great time. She's an
excellent teacher," says Johnnie Mae Maberry, chair of the art department
and one of three art professors studying Korean under Ms. Chin in order to
communicate better with South Korean exchange students on the campus.
Although Tougaloo has a number of international faculty
members, Ms. Maberry notes that 98 percent of the student body is
African-American. "So having a Korean professor here adds another
dimension and gives us another opportunity to close this gap between
cultures," she says.
As Ms. Chin has eased herself into American academic culture,
she has noted a few other differences between the two countries. The habit of
consultation, for instance. Back home at Cyber Hankuk University
of Foreign Studies, where she teaches Korean to foreign students, she explains, if the
administration decides that something needs to be done, it just does it.
everyone does something very fast," she says. "They prefer to rush.
Instead of making a precise plan, they just move first."
Just that morning, however, Ms. Chin found herself in a
faculty meeting to discuss the purchase of new teaching software. Actually, the
meeting was to announce another meeting, the following week, in which
administrators would ask faculty members about which kind of software they
Asked if she liked such a collaborative approach, Ms. Chin
says, diplomatically: "It depends. If you prepare first, you cannot make a
She is also learning to adapt to the close relationships
students have with professors. And she has been pleasantly surprised by the
fact that faculty members are taking her course.
Korea, she says,
professors are allowed to take courses but rarely do: "They think they
don't need to learn new things."
In addition to teaching, Ms. Chin also plans to organize
lectures on South Korea's welfare and educational systems, and its relationships with other
countries. When she discovered that the campus library housed only 30 books
about Korea, she collected volumes from publishers or writers she knew and
brought six boxes of books from home.
She may be a one-woman campaign to teach her colleagues and
students about all things Korean, but Ms. Chin is also eager to learn about all
things American. She particularly enjoys the rampant friendliness she has found
"Everybody who I see, they wave their hands and say
hello," she says, sounding amazed. "Even drivers."
She told a student who helped her move in about that and
said she wanted to learn more about American culture. The student smiled and
explained to her that what she was really learning was Southern culture.
Volume 55, Issue 9, Page A25