Joanna is from North Carolina and an alumna of the 2009 Korean Academic Year program in Seoul, South Korea. She also served as a Korean Instructor for the 2020 Korean Virtual Summer Intensive Program.

For Joanna, teaching Korean during VSI has brought her experience with NSLI-Y full circle from a participant to a teacher. However, her path to get here has been anything but straight.

Joanna was part of the first academic year NSLI-Y group to Korea in 2009. Joanna hails from North Carolina and hadn’t had much exposure to Korean culture before the program. Thus, her experience in Korea was monumental in that it expanded her outlook on life and broadened her professional possibilities to include using Korean as a career option. Joanna’s time in Korea on the NSLI-Y program was spent gaining a well- rounded understanding of the language and culture, living in several different parts of the country. “I’m truly grateful for the connections I made with my peers and host- family during NSLI-Y.”

During the second half of the program, Joanna studied in a Korean high school and volunteered as a tour guide, giving tours of famous sites around Seoul, including the Royal Palace, to Korean elementary and high school students in English to help with their English language learning.

It was when Joanna arrived home after her program that the importance of the language learning really hit her. Soon after, she applied to CLS and spent a summer at Chonbuk National University studying Korean.

During CLS she derived the plan to take a gap year from school and remain in Seoul to work as an intern advisor for in-country NSLI-Y participants with YES International organization. The internship shed a light on the possibility of education as a career with Korean.

Joanna knew when she returned to the U.S., it would be to attend a college that had an exemplary Korean language program. She started researching universities and decided on the University of Hawaii, Manoa due to their Korean Flagship program.

At University of Hawaii, Joanna studied Korean and Theater and worked at a local store that had many diaspora Koreans and Korean tourists where she used her language skills daily.

After graduation, life took her to Seattle, WA, where her teaching journey began. At her local dojang (Taekwondo studio) where she practiced Taekwondo, a Korean martial art, Joanna realized that students weren’t pronouncing the Korean words correctly and didn’t understand the meanings behind them. She decided to start a Korean language club at the dojang to help teach students the meanings of the words and culture behind the sport. The club became so popular that it evolved into two full classes of Korean for the Taekwondo school students. This opened her up to a world of possibilities teaching the language that she loved and soon after she began teaching at One World Now, a non-profit in Seattle.

While teaching in VSI, Joanna has used her experience learning the language in Korea to teach her students about the culture. Joanna has pushed the possibilities of virtual programing, using creative methods of teaching such as interactive learning activities. She instructed a virtual Taekwondo demonstration from her Taekwondo studio and taught a Korean cooking class demonstration.

As Joanna explains it, “Creating the curriculum for this summer program has been very fascinating. I didn’t pick a normal textbook, but instead I created a program that mimicked the most beneficial Korean language elements to know in daily life, outside of the classroom, in real life communication with locals.” Her style of teaching has allowed the curriculum to be more fluid and allowed for student input to dictate some of the topics. Joanna continues, “As a student of Korean, I have a lot of empathy for my VSI students, there is an established relatability with my students in that there needs to be continued and constant work with studying the language.” Joanna was also very cognizant of creating lesson plans and assignments where students would be able to use the language outside of class, even if in their U.S. communities. Due to this, she organized weekly partner meetups, Korean pop singing and dancing challenges, and other creative methods.

The VSI program has been an illuminating experience within the larger Korean language journey for Joanna. She plans to continue teaching Korean in the future. “This program has taught me lessons on how to be a better instructor, like what different methods of instructions I can bring into the classroom, what new resources to utilize, and how to better prepare so that students feel that we are fully covering a topic. I am so thankful to be a part of VSI and get to know each one of these students; it is a heartwarming experience and they are an inspiration to me. […] To see their enthusiasm and excitement of learning a new language and their ability to share their passion with one another during class, albeit digitally, has been so uplifting to me, that we can come together, even virtually during this pandemic, and connect on the level that we have.”