1. Terry: Could you tell us about your educational and professional background and what led you to become a graduate student at Purdue University? What is your main specialty and main area of research?
Hyun Jin: I’ve worked as an English teacher in a high school in Korea. While working at this school, I enjoyed teaching very much. However, whenever I had a chance I wanted to study about how students learn English and what factors play a role in the process of second language acquisition from an educational psychology perspective. That’s why I chose to study educational psychology further at Purdue University. I think the choice of my main specialty is based on my 8 years of teaching experience in Korean high schools and my MATESOL background in graduate school. I found that these experiences helped me a lot to understand how students learn a second language in higher education contexts.
2. Terry: As an NNEST working as an English teacher in Korea, what are some of the challenges you have experienced and what have been some of your successes? Also, as an international student in a Ph.D. program in the United States, what are some of the challenges you have experienced and what have been some of your successes?
Hyun Jin: When I taught English grammar, reading skills and listening skills, I was able to teach well. However, I was not confident in teaching speaking because I was not sure whether certain expressions are used in natural daily conversation or not. As an NNEST I felt that I lacked naturalness of language use. That was what I felt the most challenging thing was. While studying at Purdue as an international student, I still feel that same way. I know the meaning of the words but I am not sure how these words are used appropriately in daily conversational English. Whenever I email people such as professors or staff members, I always need to double check. So using words in different contexts has been the most challenging thing to me.
I have met some international professors whose English is not as perfect as that of a native speaker of English. Even though their English is not perfect, they are able to convey what they try to say. Working with such international professors has made me open my eyes. When I have worked as a teaching assistant, I have had many chances to interact with undergraduate students in class. Although I am not that confident about my speaking of English, I try to communicate with them based on meaning. Gradually I feel I am getting better in communication with undergraduate students. As long as I focus on conveying meaning, I believe I can communicate with people even though my spoken English is not perfect.
3. Terry: here has been a lot of research recently about the development of teacher identity. What particular experiences and factors have been influential in your own teacher identity development both as an English language learner in Korea and as a graduate student, researcher, and teacher in the United States?
Hyun Jin: Well, I think that studying in the MA TESOL program at San Francisco Stare University influenced me a lot in developing my identity as an language teacher. While studying TESOL, I myself was a language learner and preparing to become an English teacher through different classes and practicum experiences. All the experiences in my MA TESOL program helped me to be equipped with professional knowledge and to reflect on my own second language learning.
4. Terry: When and how did you first become aware of NNEST-related issues? Do you believe that this topic should be included in MA TESL programs, both in the U.S. and abroad? Do you think MA TESOL programs should offer particular courses about NNEST-related issues for international MA TESOL students? And also for US-born MA TESOL students? Do you think MA TESOL programs should hire at least one professor whose main area of research interest is NNEST-related issues?
Hyun Jin: I first became aware of NNEST-related issues when I read some of the literature regarding NNEST issues. If this topic is discussed in MA TESOL programs, it would help prospective English teachers to understand the strengths and weakness of NNESTs. Personally, I think it would be a great idea that MA TESOL programs offer particular courses about NNEST-related issues for international MA TESOL students because this course would help international students to understand what issues they will face and deal with in the future. It would help them to be aware of their strengths and weakness. However, I am not sure about hiring a professor whose main area of research interest is NNEST-related issues. I think as long as they are quite knowledgeable about this issue, I think any professor can open such a course because I believe that students would benefit much more from class discussion and interactions in the middle of class rather than just lectures from the professor.
5. Terry: What memory in your childhood stands out as most influential to you in forming your decision to come to the United States to study for an MA in TESOL and a Ph.D?
Hyun Jin: I had a chance to study in the summer school at University of North Carolina when I was a sophomore in 1998. Back then I majored in German in college so I took some intermediate German speaking classes in summer school. Studying at UNC was very interesting. It was amazing to me when I communicated with classmates in English or German. I had learned foreign languages but hardly had chances to talk to people who spoke in that language. So I really enjoyed taking classes at UNC. Also, during my stay in North Carolina, I had a chance to study in an ESL program in a nearby church. This ESL program was open to anyone who wanted to learn conversational English free of charge. I made good friends there, too. The summer school at UNC made me feel more interested in learning foreign languages. Since then, I always wanted to study in the USA again.
6. Terry: Teaching is a very rewarding career, either as a primary of secondary school teacher, an adult school teacher, as I was, or as a university professor, and we all have memorable experiences. Can you share any such experience which you have had?
Hyun Jin: Before I came to the Purdue University graduate school, I worked as an English teacher in a high school in Korea. I mostly taught sophomores. I used to share my stories or photos in my English classes that I had experienced in the MA TESOL program in San Francisco State University. After a year, most of my students became seniors who needed to study very hard for the Korean SAT. In May there was a Teachers’ Day in Korea. In the break time between classes, all my previous students came over to my teachers’ office to celebrate the day with me. They sang a teacher song to me. It was a really touching moment to me personally because I was going to leave the school in a couple of months to study at Purdue University. Teaching my previous students was a really blessing to me.
7. Terry: Many of our readers are aspiring non-native English teachers hoping to find jobs teaching English in the United States, in their home countries, or in another country or hoping to come to the United States to study TESOL or some other field in education. As a former teacher, MA TESOL student and now a PhD student in a well-known university, what advice would you give young aspiring non-native English teachers and students, especially international students, who would like to come to the United States to study after finishing their BA or MA degrees?
Hyun Jin: My studying abroad experiences helped me to understand myself as a language learner and an English teacher. While learning a language and adapting myself to the new culture and environment, I struggled a lot with many things. However, those experiences eventually made me see things with an open mind in more flexible ways. I would like to recommend that you face challenges in your new cultures and environment head on. This will lead you to finding your new self or identity that you otherwise wouldn’t discover in your own country.
8. Terry: Has any teacher in your life been particularly influential in your decision to come to Indiana to study and choose your current major?
Hyun Jin: When I was in college, I wanted to be a foreign language teacher so I studied German and English. However, in order to get a teaching certificate, I needed to minor in education too. So I had to take many education classes. One of my favorite classes was the introduction to educational psychology class with Mr. Lee. (I don’t remember his name quite well now.) In this class, I enjoyed very much studying how students learn and how teachers can motivate students to learn. When I studied second language learning in my MA TESOL program, I was able to connect some of theories from educational psychology with second language acquisition. After finishing my MA TESOL program, I wanted to study further how students learn second languages from educational psychology perspectives so that’s why I chose to study educational psychology for my Ph.D.
9. Terry: I was born and grew up in the Midwest. I was born in Ohio, grew up in Michigan and Indiana, and came to California at the beginning of my senior year in high school. I don’t know much about winters in Korea because I have visited there only in the summer. I also know that in the Midwest there are few if any Korean food stores, Korean restaurants with “real” Korean food, and other support for international students from Korea and other Asian countries who naturally sometimes get homesick. How have you been able to adapt to such a different environment? What coping strategies have you used? How has living in such a place with different weather and little food and other things you were used to in Korea affected your ability to study? Would you recommend others from Korea and other countries to choose such a university to study for an MA TESOL or. PhD degree or might you advise them to choose a university in a city like San Francisco or Los Angeles?
Hyun Jin: When I studied for MA TESOL in San Francisco, I hardly ever felt homesick because I had many Korean friends there and also there were many authentic Korean restaurants and places to buy things from Korea. However, living in Indiana is way different from living in a city like San Francisco. When I came to West Lafayette in 2012, I had a really difficult time to adjust myself to here. Even though it is a safer and quieter place, life without a car was so uncomfortable and limited. Even though I like Purdue University, if you expect more lively environments around you, I would like to recommend that you choose a university in a bigger city.
10. Terry: What are your favorite hobbies and other things you like to do to unwind when you are not studying or working? Have these changed now that you live in the United States?
Hyun Jin: I used to visit art galleries or museums when I lived in Seoul. I enjoy appreciating paintings, photos, or architectures. Since I came to graduate school for a Ph.D, I can hardly go visit museums during the semester. So now instead, whenever I have a free time, I do some indoor hobbies such as reading books or listening to music; I did not do this often in Seoul.