Font Size

content body

Font size

In 2004, Hyundai began construction on its first assembly and manufacturing plant in the United States. Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, LLC (HMMA), located in Montgomery, began production in May of 2005, and is now one of the most advanced assembly plants in North America. In 2006, Kia established Kia Manufacturing Georgia (KMMA) in West Point, just over 30 minutes from Auburn.  

As the automakers have established themselves in the area, a growing number of South Korean families have settled in Auburn and the surrounding areas. In fact, according to U.S. News & World Report, Asians or Asian Pacific Islanders make up 11.1 percent of the population in the Auburn City School System in 2023. 

With an increasing number of South Korean students in classrooms, teachers have faced new challenges, including developing effective communication with students and parents and understanding an unfamiliar culture. 

In 2011, Suhyun Suh, associate professor emeritus in the college’s Department of Special Education, Rehabilitation, and Counseling, formed the Global Studies in Education: South Korea program with gift money from Ajin USA, a South Korean metal stamping company built in Chambers County in 2008. 

The program was initiated to help teachers and school leaders gain cross-cultural knowledge and awareness and learn about Korean education systems and culture. It includes an orientation of Korean education and culture in the spring followed by a trip to the country over the summer.

In 2014, Jung Won Hur, professor of education media in the Department of Educational Foundations, Leadership and Technology, or EFLT, became the program coordinator and has led Global Studies in Education: South Korea since then.

“My passion for supporting teachers’ overseas learning is rooted in my personal journey as an international student in the United States and my former elementary school teaching experience," Hur said. “I believe that overseas learning not only fosters an understanding of other cultures but also helps deeply reflect on personal beliefs and values. 

“Providing educators with an international experience is particularly critical in today’s school environments where educators are interacting with increasing number of immigrant students. Having firsthand experiences helps educators communicate effectively with immigrant students and families and create an inclusive learning environment for all." 

The trip was canceled for a few years due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, but last summer, Hur and eight elementary and high school teachers from Alabama traveled to South Korea for nearly two weeks. The participating teachers came from Auburn City Schools, Opelika City Schools, Chambers County and Lee County to gain knowledge about Korean culture and educational systems while fostering a deeper understanding of the needs and challenges faced by immigrant students and families. 

During the preparation meeting ahead of the trip, Hur consulted with participants to gauge interest in a variety of locations to visit. She uses participant opinions and annual evaluations from previous trips alongside personal research to craft an agenda that is both education and enjoyable.

“I made a great effort to develop an itinerary that combines meaningful educational experiences with enjoyable activities. For example, recognizing the rising popularity of K-Pop, I included an activity where participants can learn K-Pop dance,” she said. “Given the strong emphasis on religion in Alabama, I also incorporated opportunities to attend both Korean church services and Buddhist lessons.”

This year’s itinerary encompassed a variety of activities, including visits to K-12 schools, meetings with Korean families, explorations of historical sites, educational site visits, and immersive cultural experiences. The program has a partnership with Ewha Womans University in South Korea, which helps coordinate the visits to schools and with Korean families.

Teachers on the trip immersed themselves into Korean life and found themselves in the same roles as their Korean students who are living in a new country and learning a new language and way of life. While there are many differences between Korean and American cultures, teachers also found similarities in the various schools they visited.

“I have developed a greater understanding of what it is like to be ‘dropped’ into a foreign country. Not knowing the language, the culture, and the etiquette of a country and then being expected to excel in anything is very difficult,” said Brandy McKinnell, an eighth-grade physical science teacher at Auburn Junior High School. “Being a participant on this trip has helped me realize that even though people speak a different language or look different than me, we really are all the same. The students at Ewha Middle School were behaving the same way they do at my school.”

Program Note: After reaching program objectives over the past 12 years, the trip offering for local educators through Auburn’s College of Education will conclude. With the help of Ajin USA—the metal stamping company that helped establish the program—a similar program will be offered to teachers in Bryan County, Georgia, where a new Hyundai EV factory is being constructed. This new program will be run by Auburn’s Korea Corner in University Outreach.

Contact the Korea Corner or University Outreach for information about future trips through Global Studies in Education: South Korea.