An Authentic Story to Tell – How a social studies degree student was changed by her time in Korea
Who was the best teacher you ever had?
Was it the algebra teacher who had an uncanny ability to explain formulas and variables? Maybe it was a chemistry teacher who made elements come to life through foaming beakers and billowing smoke. Or perhaps it was the social studies teacher who introduced each country with such flair, you felt like you were actually visiting for yourself.
This is the teacher Anna Jank hopes to be.
A junior from Albion, Indiana, Anna had never been out of the country before attending Grace. Anna signed up for a trip to Greece and France her freshman year. She was eager about the opportunity to spend ten days abroad to fulfill Grace’s cross-cultural field requirement. While the trip introduced her to a love for travel, studying abroad was never on her radar. Besides, she didn’t know how to speak anything but English, and Social Studies Degree majors weren’t required to go abroad.
But when Anna learned her sophomore year that anyone at Grace can study abroad and take classes in English, it was as if the decision had already been made. Anna Jank was going to Korea.
Welcome to Korea
When Anna arrived in Korea, the culture shock hit hard.
“It was chaos at first,” Anna recalled. After getting off the long flight, Anna was escorted to the subway which transported her through the complex network of underground tunnels. Foreign writing covered the walls and unknown words filled her ears. “All of a sudden we were minorities and we had no idea what people were saying,” she recounted. It didn’t take long for it to set in that she was not in Indiana anymore.
When she arrived at her Airbnb in Seoul, the jetlag was setting in. After a long wait in the lobby, a couple of locked doors, and several incorrect keys, Anna finally got into her room. As her head hit the pillow that night, she thought, What have I done? She began questioning her decision to study abroad. There’s no going back now, she mused. But after returning from her time in Korea, Anna acknowledged that the decision she made was the right one. “I’m so glad I stayed because it turned out to be the best decision ever,” she said.
Things started turning around the very next day when Anna arrived on the campus of Handong Global University, one of Grace’s partner institutions in Pohang, South Korea. As her taxi pulled up to the school, Anna was startled to recognize a familiar face. Jonghak, a Korean student who had previously studied abroad at Grace, greeted her with a big smile and welcomed her to Handong. Seeing Jonghak — the familiar in a sea of unfamiliar — was just the encouragement Anna needed.
All Things New
A group of RAs came to greet Anna and helped her get settled into her new dormitory. This would be the backdrop of all things new for Anna.
Carmichael Hall was the dorm designated to around 200 international students. The rooms were filled with students from China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Africa, South America, and different parts of Europe. One of Anna’s favorite parts of her time at Handong was getting to know her diverse hallmates. The experiences and conversations they shared as foreign exchange students created a lasting bond. “It’s safe to say that I could fly to pretty much any continent now and have a place to stay if I made a call,” Anna said.
There were several other aspects of Handong that differed greatly from Grace College. This is evidenced by the taekwondo class she took once a week for course credit as well as the school’s week-long festival. The festival was a big deal on Handong’s campus. It included food vendors, organized dancing and singing, and even canceled classes for the week. But Anna’s experiences were not limited to campus events. She had the chance to visit significant Korean landmarks such as a grand Korean palace–an adventure, unlike anything Anna had done before. “The palace was built before America was even recognized as a country,” the history-lover gawked. “We wore traditional clothing as we walked around, which made the experience extra special,” she added.
See You in Heaven
Although there were a number of differences between Pohang and Winona Lake, there was one undeniable familiarity–the warmth of Christian community. Experiencing God in a new country was one of the most impactful aspects of Anna’s time abroad.
Anna loved her church in Korea. Her congregation of about 30 people opened her eyes to the diversity of God’s people. “It is a beautiful feeling to know that God is so much bigger than culture or language and that our citizenship in heaven goes before citizenship of a country,” she said.
One of Anna’s favorite memories was when she visited a traditional Korean village with her church. At the village, she met a woman about half her height. The woman proudly told Anna through a translator that she too loves Jesus and gifted Anna with two little brown eggs from her own hen. There was an unexplainable bond between them. As they parted ways, the woman said, “See you in heaven.” Anna was awestruck to realize that one day she really will talk with the woman in heaven–no translator needed.
The Path Ahead
There is no question, Anna’s time in Korea will impact her path after Grace College. As a social studies teacher in training, understanding people and cultures are key to Anna’s success. Her plan after graduation is to teach world history, but where she does that is still unknown.
“It’s a real possibility that my career takes me to Korea or somewhere abroad. And my time in Korea opened my eyes to that,” said Anna who was able to visit a few of the elementary and middle schools during her time in Asia. But she also sees great value in teaching in the states and sharing her global worldview with American students after she completes her social studies degree.
“I think a lot of American history classes focus on western history, but I would be able to focus more on eastern history which is so important because Asia makes up more people in the world than any other continent,” Anna expressed. And the Asian culture is not the only vantage point Anna can bring to her students; “Because I lived with people from all around the globe, I can share their stories about their families, their traditions, and their history too. These are authentic stories I can tell,” she added. These authentic stories will make Anna an authentic teacher.
Who is the best teacher you ever had?
One day soon, Anna Jank hopes to be the answer.