FARMINGTON — Four University of Maine at Farmington seniors have just returned from a four-month student teaching experience at Daegu International School in Daegu, South Korea.

Three of the four elementary education majors have chosen to return and continue as employed teachers at the school, one developed in partnership with Maine’s Lee Academy.

The school opened last September, and the student teachers arrived in January. They went into a new country and a new school, Ann Lynch, UMF director of field services, said.

After graduating Saturday, Jessica Timmereck of Brunswick will return to her kindergarten class on Sunday, while Lacy Dugas of Westbrook and Amber Hawkins of Portland will return by Aug. 1.

The fourth student teacher, Amber Lebel-Roy of Lewiston, has accepted tutoring positions locally for the summer while seeking employment here for the fall.

They shared their experiences and what they learned in a panel discussion Thursday afternoon at UMF.

With enthusiasm and humor, the four spoke of their efforts to adapt to cultural differences while putting what they’ve learned into practice in the classroom as student teachers.

“Our way isn’t necessarily ‘the way,'” Hawkins said, explaining that other ways are not necessarily weird, just different.

Her students jampacked their day with school, activities and additional tutoring sessions, which sometime lasted to the early hours of the next morning. After a few hours of sleep the students, would get back up at 6 a.m. to start a similar day.

It’s part of the Korean culture to seek a good education, taking every opportunity to learn and succeed, because if one student doesn’t, the student next to them will, she explained.

“It’s our culture to watch television till 1 a.m.,” she added.

The goal for most of the students, many from South Korea, Nepal and Pakistan, was to go “to Harvard”  or to further their education in the states.

Most students were learning multiple languages. They take in so much more, Dugas said.

“It’s as difficult for them to learn English as it was for us to learn Korean,” Lebel-Roy said.

The experience “opened my eyes to everything,” Dugas said. She spoke of putting herself in her students’ shoes, developing compassion and understanding and resolving to know each of her students and what else they contend with after school hours.

The international school is located in an area where a textile and fashion industry is quickly emerging, the young teachers said. Technology was important to their students, and they talked about the use of Smartboards in their classrooms.

The four, who lived in the school dorms, received room and board and stipends for extra coverage during after-school hours. The returning teachers will earn about $30,000 a year and benefits. They’ll continue to live in the dorms, they said. Other American teachers who mentored the young women find the savings on items like gas and food allow them to travel to surrounding countries.

Hawkins and Timmereck had previously studied abroad, New Zealand and Spain, respectively.  They were ready to sign on for a new adventure to South Korea, they said.

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