After applying for 15 years, I was finally hired by DODEA to teach in South Korea in 2015. I started my teaching career in Daegu at Daegu High School and moved to Seoul in 2017. I am a special education teacher. I worked at Seoul American High School and then Seoul American Middle High School from August 2017 to the close of the school in June 2019.
When I took the position at Seoul American High School, I was aware that the school may close in the near future. I became aware of the plan to turn the school into a park as plans were slowly revealed to staff about the future of Yongsan Garrison. This would be the first time I had ever worked at a school that was closing, but this fact didn’t deter me from taking the job. In fact, I had asked to move to Seoul from Daegu to take advantage of the opportunity to live and work in a large, cosmopolitan city and to support students with intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorder.
The fact that the school would be closing impacted me differently than those who had been connected to the base for a long time.
A working day for me was like this. I walked 17 minutes from my apartment to the school. I passed through the Dragon Hill Lodge Gate and started the day in my classroom. I worked with first one student with intellectual disabilities and then 3 students the subsequent year who had various diagnosis such as Autism Spectrum Disorder and Severe Learning Disabilities. Each day was different due to our rotating school schedule, but generally I taught students in self-contained classroom, general education classroom, and community based settings. My students did volunteer work around the base including volunteering at the Army Community Service (ACS) office putting together packets for incoming military personnel, volunteering at the American Red Cross office and at their various events around the installation, and volunteering at the Dragon Hill Lodge (DHL)and Seoul American Elementary School. At the DHL,I assisted my student as she pressed laundry in the hotel’s laundry room using the industrial machine and practicing work skills. Due to the fact that I took my students all over the base to volunteer, I knew many people and made many connections that I maintain beyond the confines of Yongsan Garrison. After a day in and out of school, I walked the 17 minutes home and enjoyed all of the dining and cultural opportunities in Yongsan-Gu.
Prior to working for DoDEA, the majority of my career took place in the city of Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Each school district I have worked for has been very different. They have ranged from schools in affluent suburbs with a majority of White students to schools in less affluent urban neighborhoods with large percentages of Hispanic and African American students. DoDEA schools differ from other schools I have worked in mostly by the fact that students’ basic needs are all taken care of, so students come to school ready to learn. Students have housing, food, and family support more reliably than in other places I have worked in the United States. Teachers in DoDEA generally have adequate resources. I had to provide my own printer, ink and copy paper in one of the Chicago schools where I worked. This has never been the case in DoDEA for me. I also notice a difference in the life experiences of students in DoDEA schools. Moving from country to country is a common experience for many of the students, and they develop a level or resilience and an ability to make friends and accept peers at levels I have never seen before. I also have colleagues that come from all over the United States and several from other countries, making the diversity of people and experiences wide, resulting in the schools being interesting places to work. In DoDEA, colleagues become family in a way that doesn’t happen back in the States where I have my own family nearby. Many of us are here alone and rely on each other for support and celebrations.
Even though I only had the privilege of working at the Yongsan Garrison for two years, my “Falcon for Life” certificate proudly hangs over my home desk and brings warm feelings to my heart each time I see it and recall my time at Seoul American High and Middle/High Schools