BYU can check off another award for its foreign language programs. Associate Professor Julie Damron (Asian and Near Eastern Languages) recently received the Global Engagement Initiative Award from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). This national award recognizes professors who build and encourage opportunities for students to engage with cultural communities while learning a foreign language. In 2010, Dr. Damron started the BYU/Kyung Hee University (Suwon, Korea) Direct Enrollment Program, which is aimed at helping students immerse themselves in the Korean culture and language for an extended period of time.
This program begins every winter semester when KHU Korean-teaching majors travel to BYU campus to work as teachers’ aids in beginning- through advanced-level BYU Korean language classes. In these classes, KHU students lead small group instruction, give individualized help, and provide an opportunity for students to practice with a native speaker. To add breadth and depth to the community-engagement experience, KHU and BYU students spend time outside of the classroom in both on- and off-campus cultural activities, which help forge cherished friendships. At the end of winter semester, the KHU students return to Korea, looking forward to the arrival of their newfound friends on their own KHU campus.
The following fall semester, approximately fifteen BYU students continue their Korean language study (and renew their friendships), enrolling in Korean language courses as international students at KHU and fully engaging in the university and wider community. BYU students spend a full semester living in the dorms and participating in on- and off-campus activities such as KHU’s International Student Theatre, where international students participate in a university-wide theatrical performance in Korean. Some BYU students have also joined the university soccer team and most spend their free time exploring Buddhist monasteries and other cultural sites.
The program also provides interested participants with the opportunity to return to what has become their home-away-from-home to complete either KHU’s Master’s of Second Language Learning or BYU’s Second Language Teaching (SLaT) master’s program. At least ten Korean students have chosen to pursue this course and have had the opportunity to be part-time language teachers at BYU. Dr. Damron has taken many of the KHU students who return to BYU as master’s students under her wing and has even co-authored a book with one KHU student who attended BYU’s SLaT master’s program. She also chaired or advised several KHU students on their BYU master’s theses.
BYU students at KHU also encounter professional development opportunities while abroad. Emily Schaffer, an Asian Studies major, participated in the Peace Festival in Seoul and was named an International Student Peace Ambassador for North and South Korea, a prestigious nomination that allows students to explore the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), meet North Korean defectors, and discuss the advancement of human rights. Several BYU students have attended KHU as master’s students. Damron explained that even “students who have never been to Korea but have an interest in Korean because of K-pop find themselves engaging in a much deeper and more significant way than they expected. The relationship that the BYU and KHU students built over the course of several semesters is long-lasting, meaningful, and highly valued.”
After receiving her award, Damron expressed gratitude that the program received recognition. She remarked, “When I heard that I had received this award, I felt grateful for the national recognition of a program that has taken years and years of hard work and preparation. I felt privileged to receive the award considering the number of uniquely engaging study abroad programs in universities in the United States.”