Kyung-Hee: I was born in Seoul, Korea. I was exposed to English at a fairly young age. My father interacted with English speaking people on a regular basis at work, and sometimes he would invite them over at our house to have dinner with all of us. Also the kindergarten at which I was enrolled had three different language classes (English, French, & German), though I have to admit I don’t remember anything that I might have learned there. So I have always been interested in learning another language. But I never thought I would (or could) actually teach and help other people learn other language until I changed my major – I have a B.S. in Chemistry and originally came here 10 years ago to pursue a doctoral degree in Chemistry. After I received an MA in Applied English Linguistics in 2003, I was hired by the University of Houston Writing Center as the ESL Program Manager. I teach freshmen composition classes (for nonnative speakers) and grammar and writing workshops for non-native speaking students. I am currently working on developing a writing workshop targeted specifically for non-native speaking graduate students enrolled in the College of Natural Science and Mathematics at the University of Houston.
Amir: What are your areas of interest?
Kyung-Hee: Though I have been interested in second language writing for most of my academic life, I was originally very much interested in teaching grammar, especially from the “focus-on-form(s)” perspective. Having worked at a writing center and having taught writing courses, I now have a profound interest in second language writing and pedagogy. Interestingly enough, many of my students believe their writing will get all better once they master mechanical (grammar) elements of it, which often frustrates me.
Amir: And your extracurricular hobbies and interests?
Kyung-Hee: I consider myself an avid reader, though I have to admit that I am not quite fond of heavy reading – anything that smells or screams “philosophy” will be good for me only as a sleeping aid. I also love traveling: I’ve visited more than 20 cities/towns (USA alone) since 1995. Being a daughter of a huge sushi aficionado and having spent a good number of years of my life with him, I also enjoy eating sushi very much. These days I have to say that I spend more of my leisure time working on my “Su-Do-Ku” than I do reading: it is a puzzle that involves numbers – coming originally from a discipline that plays a lot with numbers, I guess I couldn’t help falling for it.
Amir: What are your most vivid memories (positive/negative) of being an NNEST in your academic and/or professional practices?
Kyung-Hee: As almost all NNEST members will agree, it almost seems that experiencing negative moments as a NNEST comes with the territory. So unfortunately I have more than plenty to share with everyone. But I would like to talk about one of my positive memories. A couple of semesters ago, I was reading the evaluation sheet that students had filled out the previous semester. Since I struggled a lot (particularly) that semester with the students – somehow my teaching style and their learning style weren’t that compatible, I was not expecting much from the students’ comments. Sure enough, I had some spiteful comments, ranging from “She was boring and bad” to “An ESL person should never teach an English writing class.” As I was trying to cope with some of those offensive comments, one evaluation caught my eye. On the evaluation sheet, the question asked if they would recommend the class to others, and the student answered as in the following: “Yes, although the teacher was really tough and we had to work really hard, I learned a lot about writing, and she really seems to understand how we feel. And I feel better about my English now.” At that moment, I didn’t care how many other negative and depressing comments I would read, that specific comment made every pain I had gone (or would go) through all worth it. I still live my professional life by that moment.
Amir: Do you have contacts with NNESTs in your present job?
Kyung-Hee: Though there are not many, some of the peer Writing Consultants I work with in my class are NNESs. Writing Consultants hold small group and individual consultation sessions with the students enrolled in my class. Though there have been a few students who specifically refused to meet with a NNES Writing Consultants and requested that they be assigned to a NES Writing Consultant, students are, for the most part, really appreciative of NNES Writing Consultants.
Amir: How would you describe the most important contributions of non-native speaker professionals the L2 learning/teaching, and applied linguistics?
Kyung-Hee: From the learning/teaching perspective, I believe NNES teachers function almost as a bridge that connects the learners and teachers together and brings them closer. They have a first hand experience as learners, and hence they can truly understand their learners. The learners, even the ones who might have been resistant to having a NNES teacher at first, often find this remarkable if not “cool” because they usually discover their teacher can relate to them better, and they often find that language learning is not as daunting a task as they might have thought before: if my teacher can do it, maybe I can. This, I believe, gives them a really great advantage as teachers. Also their peer NES teachers can get “authentic” stories of language learning, and this helps them understand their students a little better.
Amir: How did you get to know about NNEST Caucus? What are the things (if any) you would like to see the Caucus and its members initiate/do?
Kyung-Hee: I joined as soon as I became a member of TESOL. But I never participated in any of the NNEST activities or gatherings actively until very recently; I didn’t believe I had anything worth sharing with or contributing to the Caucus. This is the reason why I would like to see the Caucus encourage its members to be involved more actively. Although I know the leadership of the Caucus has been trying very hard to have more voices heard, I believe there are still many “quiet” members out there who have wonderful things they can contribute to the Caucus.