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English teaching ministry in Korea surprises
November 30, 2005
Seoul, South Korea — The heart of busy Seoul seems an unlikely place for a business run by an Anabaptist/Mennonite organization.
The North American Mennonites working here are more accustomed to simple living and being the ‘quiet in the land,’ but with the students enrolled in Connexus coming and going from 10 am till 10 pm, life is anything but quiet and simple.
Tim Friesen (Calgary Inter-Mennonite Church) noticed the difference as soon as he arrived in Korea in June 2005 as an intern with Connexus, an English language ministry of the Korea Anabaptist Center (KAC) supported by Mennonite Church Canada Witness in partnership with Mennonite Mission Network.
An English major graduate from Canadian Mennonite University and engaged to be married next fall, Friesen came upon Connexus while looking for a unique cross-cultural learning experience in a supportive community. His first time living in a metropolis like Seoul, some differences from Winnipeg life struck him as soon as he arrived.
“Something you will experience right away is Seoul’s ‘busyness’. There are people on the street at all hours of the day it seems. People are on the go from between 4 and 5am, when people start playing tennis at the courts near my homestay apartment, to very late into the night.”
In the midst of this activity, Friesen witnesses an alternative to the busyness by taking time to focus on relationships, whether in class or in conversation over a meal shared with Connexus and KAC staff at the school – a refreshing change in an area popular for expensive restaurants.
These friendships between teachers and students, out of place in Korea’s Confucian hierarchy and fast-paced business society, challenge the status quo.
“The main difference between Connexus and other English schools is the relationships that you have the opportunity to build with the students,” said Friesen. “Some will even spend all their time studying and you will see them every day. Some of the students will even cry at the end of the month when they are finished their classes and move on to other things.” With small classes of no more than six students, Friesen can really get to know each student, not only to address language learning struggles, but to engage on a personal level as well.
When KAC staff excitedly announced the opening of Connexus in October 2004, they dreamed of a strong response – but were surprised by what God had in store. Since opening, Connexus has grown to five teachers and over 110 students – increasing the need for more teachers to meet the demand. Through this growth, God continues to work in unexpected ways in the lives and hearts students and teachers alike.
As they learn to know one another, students and teachers take part in valuable cross-cultural learning. One student who finished her studies at Connexus several months ago, recently e-mailed the staff that not only did she enjoy the friendships with teachers while she studied, but they had changed her perception of Westerners.
In Friesen’s experience, understanding is just one outcome of relationship building with students. “Many people come to Connexus very afraid of foreigners. By the time they leave the students are very open to talking to you and others that are different from them.”
Friesen said many foreigners in Korea do not spend time building relationships with Korean friends, but having a host family and strong connections in class give him a different experience. Reaching across cultures, in an honest effort to learn from others, breaks down barriers of misunderstanding and fear.
Adapting to living with a Korean host family can be challenging, but provides additional help for Westerners in learning about Korean people and culture.
“Hospitality, for example, is something that is very important to the Korean people. This usually comes across as people buying you dinner,” he said. Paying for another’s meal is a sign of respect, which Friesen is growing to accept more freely. “I have had meals where I have had to literally jump up and run to the front in order to prevent other people at the table from paying for the bill.”
In his cultural learning, Friesen looks to both his North American and Korean coworkers at Connexus and KAC in trying to understand some parts of Korean culture that he might otherwise find overwhelming. The group also provides support, friendships and fellowship.
“The people that you work with will become a second family. It is very difficult to be homesick in this environment,” he said. “I came expecting to meet new people and experience a culture that I knew nothing about. I also came to learn about myself and to learn how to have a relationship over a very long distance. What I found was all of that and more.”