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Studying and Teaching Abroad Brings Greater Insight at Home

Professor Tao Keonghee believes strongly that, as an educator, it’s important to have the awareness and skill set to be able to communicate effectively with a diverse student population. More than overcoming language barriers, Keonghee suggests that the next generation of educators needs to be able to connect with all their students, including those who share different cultures, family backgrounds and traditions, in order to build truly productive student-teacher relationships. Tao is committed to helping the students in her classroom — pre-service teachers, soon to face these issues — understand the different ways diverse students think, feel, learn, and form relationships.

“The issue in education now is that although the U.S. student population is become radically diverse, teachers are becoming more monolingual,” said Tao. “The number of mainstream teachers is growing, so there is a mismatch in ethnicity between students and the teachers, who do not have the knowledge base or skills to approach, work with, and form relationships with these different ethnic children,” she said.

To help her pre-service students understand diversity firsthand, Tao has created a study abroad foreign exchange program. In June 2009, she will be traveling with some of her students to Japan and Korea, where they will study at Sungshin Women’s University, Tao’s alma mater. For every four University of Idaho students who study in Korea, one Korean student will come to the University of Idaho.


“Our students here are going to be the teachers in the next generation,” said Tao. “They need to know how to approach these ethnically different students. Maybe this experience will widen their horizons and help them realize there are different ways of valuing things. When it comes to teaching and learning, it's all a very culturally embedded social practice. We do it this way in America, but when they see it done differently in Korea, they will see there is not only one way.”

The students will be in Korea and Japan for six to seven weeks next summer, and will stay in dorms at Sungshin Women’s University, which also has a K-12 school on-site.

While there, they will take two three-credit courses and work with the Korean children. One course will be an Asian historical overview of the educational system and cultural ways of Korea. The second course will be a practicum where students will create lesson plans and work with the Korean children.

“My students will observe the Korean teachers and the methods used, the basic pedagogy and curriculum and compare and contrast with their own methods,” said Tao. “They will talk with me about those differences and what went well and how they might do things differently. How can you give that kind of experience at a university alone? Just talking cannot replace the hands-on experience these students will be getting.”


Tao has felt the mismatch between student and teacher firsthand in her own classroom — a dissonance that she believes boils down to the ability to communicate clearly and form relationships. She believes teachers in K-12 settings face these same issues. She has worked hard and tried several different methods to create better communication with her students, such as having students sign up to co-teach classes with her, listing student and teacher expectations, and increasing the level of communication via weekly e-mails. This semester, she feels she’s finally making a connection with her students, and believes the extra workload has been well worth the reward. Interested in culturally responsive teaching, Tao has planned for three different areas of research while in Korea. She hopes to document the transformation her students experience, compare and contrast the teaching methods of the Korean and American teachers, and study how foreign language learners learn English. She plans to share some of her findings at the National Reading Conference when she returns to the U.S., where she chairs a study group that looks at they ways culture, race and ethnicity affect the way we teach and learn.

“I’m going to share my own experiences here at the University of Idaho, because I’m now seeing hope and possibility,” she said.

Tao is recruiting students for the Korean and Japan study abroad foreign exchange program now.

“We are working hard to keep costs at a minimum for students,” said Tao, who noted that total costs for the trip will be around $7,500 per student. She hopes to recruit six to eight students for the summer 2009 and is looking for funding sources to offset the costs for students.

To learn more about the Japan/Korean study abroad program, contact or call (208) 885-6587.


Tao Keonghee, professor in the University of Idaho Department of Curriculum and Instruction