Former Cowl Editor-in-Chief on Teaching English in South Korea, Connecting With Others, and Hearing Their Stories
by Sara Conway ’21
It had been a long 15 hours for Kerry Torpey ’20. Flying across the world to South Korea in order to teach English—and during a global pandemic, no less—was no joke.
There was the proper paperwork to put together before departing from the United States, then there was the 15-hour flight itself. But one of the last hurdles was the temperature check after landing at Incheon International Airport.
Since her trip was in February, Torpey wore a sweater and her winter coat for the flight. Unfortunately, when mixed with her backpack—which was “15 pounds heavier than it was supposed to” be—dragging her luggage through the airport, and the general stress of traveling overseas during a global health crisis, Torpey’s temperature was just slightly higher than what the authorities at the airport considered acceptable.
Cue her desperate efforts to cool down once she was in another line for those who had not quite made the temperature cut. The backpack was dropped, the coat was shed, and her hair was up. So close and yet so far.
Although Torpey would not leave for South Korea until February 2021, she began the tenuous process of acquiring the proper paperwork for her journey in July 2020. “Everything’s in the context of COVID-19,” Torpey said, detailing that if something was slightly off, you could be sent back to the U.S. before you even stepped outside of Korea’s airport. Plus, before she could board the plane in the U.S., Torpey needed a negative COVID test, so she spent her last month in America self-quarantining. Hence why she “wasn’t able to breathe” until she actually got to South Korea, made it through the airport gates, and was safely quarantining in her room. And although Torpey has been in Seoul teaching for a little more than a month, she said that it did not feel real quite yet.
Currently, Torpey is teaching English in a public school in Seoul, South Korea, where she has 22 different classes of students ranging from grades four through six. She applied for a teaching position through English Program In Korea, a program with the Korea National Institute for International Education, which is under the umbrella of the Korean Ministry of Education. While Torpey’s application was handled by EPIK, her employer is actually the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, since EPIK recommends specific applicants to education offices across South Korea that then hire the teachers themselves.
Pursuing a degree in education was on her mind during her time at Providence College, but Torpey was unable to double major in it alongside her English studies. But she remembers Cowl copyeditor Jennifer Dorn ’18, who received a Fulbright Scholarship to teach English in the Czech Republic. That moment in her sophomore year, Torpey notes, is when she really started looking into teaching English internationally. As to why she wanted to teach abroad—and specifically in South Korea—Torpey had a few attachments to the country, one being a high school friend who resides there.
Another was the vast difference between American and Korean culture. “That intrigued me beyond no degree,” Torpey said. She wanted to be in a place where she would have to learn, adapt, and immerse herself, especially with the language hurdle, although Torpey emphasized that Hangul, the alphabetical system that forms the basis of written Korean, is “potentially one of the greatest inventions of all time” (no disagreements there). But this cultural difference simultaneously holds infinite possibilities of exploration and fostering a deeper understanding: “the most human connection you can have with someone is talking about where you come from.”
As an English major, a staff writer, and an editor of the Arts & Entertainment section of The Cowl, and later Editor-in-Chief, these experiences built solid foundations for Torpey to pursue teaching English. She joined The Cowl September of her freshman year and moved up to an editor position by the end of the year, which further developed her “confidence in [her] ability to write, to edit, and [her] grasp of the English language.” While she was too late to double major in education, Torpey did take courses such as Educational Psychology taught by Dr. Kevin O’Connor, which focuses on classroom management and formulating better insight into the kids in your classroom.
She also has been around educators her entire life. Torpey’s grandmother was a teacher; her sister is a teacher; and her aunt is a dean of a law school. In addition, she volunteered in her sister’s second grade classroom for about five years, so Torpey is familiar with the school environment for younger learners.
These experiences also gave Torpey confidence as she prepared for her new role as an English teacher in a new country. She stressed that the schools and their relationship with their native-speaking English teachers are varied, and it depends on where someone ends up. Torpey’s school gives her a fair amount of creative freedom as she structures her lessons around the textbook and adds her own personal touches.
The nucleus of Torpey’s preparation, however, was research. Years of research. She is naturally still learning, but Torpey made sure that she was culturally aware and respectful of Korean customs, many of which are drastically different from those in the United States. Torpey emphasized that it all boils down to respect and understanding what is rude and what is polite, particularly for a culture that is founded on respect and hierarchy such as South Korea. For example, in Korea, one has to give and receive things with two hands.
Torpey is also the youngest teacher in her school, which is a role within itself. Since she is a foreigner, she generally is not expected to know certain customs. However, Torpey’s “effort to learn” demonstrated an awareness and a willingness that deeply respects the country, the history, and the culture of the place in which she now resides.
Language studies was a necessary part of preparations as well. Torpey used online resources including YouTube, a program called Talk to Me in Korean, and various apps. While she was in quarantine in Korea, she took an online class. Currently, Torpey is looking for a course in Korea, noting that she often learns better in a classroom setting.
While she has been studying the Korean language for some time, Torpey does get stressed about speaking. Although it is a persistent hurdle, she is aware that she has to push herself to use the language because “the only way you’re going to get better is if you use it.” In the end, yet again, “it is the effort that counts.” And Torpey does understand more than she gives herself credit, which she acknowledges, recounting, “Sometimes my co-workers will say something to me in Korean, and it’s funny, so I’ll laugh.” Torpey chuckles as she remembers their surprised reactions.
When I asked her about her expectations for South Korea and for teaching, Torpey said she had none. “There’s just so many unknowns that how can you possibly have any expectations?” Torpey muses over how she is usually a planner, but the journey to South Korea, including the 15-hour long flight—and the experience living in the country—has shown her that you can plan all you want, but those same certainties can be uprooted just as quickly. However, despite having no expectations, Torpey again emphasized respect: “take everything with grace and respect for others and yourself.”
This has guided Torpey from the day she landed in Korea and beyond. Now, a month into teaching, she is “grateful” and excited to go to work every day. However, it all “comes back to the students and their willingness and eagerness to learn and how open they are.” The first day was like how most are when they meet someone new. Her students were “a little shy, a little intimidated,” and Torpey remembers that they were a bit “fascinated” by her since Korea is a relatively racially homogenous place.
Despite the differences in age, culture, and experiences, mutual interests bridge Torpey and her students, who call her “Kerry Teacher.” On the first day, she created an introduction PowerPoint and because she mentioned that she played basketball for a while, she now plays with some other teachers on Wednesdays.
This foundation of openness that Torpey set from the beginning is what characterizes her classroom. By being “welcoming and accepting,” she encourages a mutual exchange that then builds an “inclusive and comfortable” space. Although her students do not speak fluent English, “we can still have conversations in which we are making connections with one another over similar interests in sports or movies or music,” Torpey added. In essence, a “human-to-human connection” is created. She gave the example of one of her lesson games called “Stay Alive,” which made learning “I have a cold” a lot more fun for her sixth graders, many of whom like playing video games. The lesson was designed so students can gain a life, lose one, or, if they were physically in class, steal a life as they worked to improve their writing and speaking skills. Listening to her students and taking note of what they like allows her to “find games that cater to their interests,” thus making the process of learning English more engaging for everyone.
While Torpey is the teacher, there is a great deal that she has already learned in her (short) time in South Korea. “We are all such small fish in a big sea,” she reflected, drawing the conversation to her walks through Olympic Park in Seoul, which she often finds many older Koreans strolling through as well. “The oldest generations here either remember the Korean War or grew up in the years that followed, in which the country was in a serious economic struggle as they tried to create a new nation,” Torpey continues. She emphasizes that the “rich history of South Korea can be seen on every corner in Seoul, and it is important not to forget this history when thinking about South Korea, which many now associate with pop culture.”
However, as Torpey notes, “the people who are here have stories from all of those time periods,” from the Korean War to its economic boom. As the time inches closer to 11 p.m. in South Korea, Torpey thoughtfully adds her personal reflection: “It’s made me realize how important it is for all of us to try and broaden our worldviews.” She emphasizes that there are so many stories ready to be told at our fingertips, and “Korea is a country that is incredibly rich with stories.”
Stories are the common thread: “With the pandemic, when you aren’t around people as much, you kind of lose that humanness a little bit and that connection and that closeness with people.” Teaching in a totally new country, while there are numerous challenges, presents a unique opportunity, where there are new stories and new histories to be found.
There is clarity in Torpey’s eyes as she concludes, “While I can’t speak the language very well, I still feel like there’s so much to appreciate here within the culture, within the people and the stories that they have. That’s why it’s important to me to study the language very hard, too. I’m not going to be an expert by the next year, but I want to be able to talk to people and hear their stories.”
One of Torpey’s favorite Korean words is ha-ru, meaning “one day.” Maybe one day Torpey will be able to speak to the people of Korea and hear their stories in their native language. But even now, she is connecting on a fundamental human level as a teacher, learning about the Korean culture, and getting to know her students—the next generations—and their own stories. And that is a start.
Coronavirus Affects Study Abroad Students: What Measures PC and Other Schools are Taking to Ensure Safety
by Kyle Burgess ’21
With the beginning of spring in sight and the perceived long-awaited end to flu season, the rapid emergence of COVID-19 in China, more commonly referred to as coronavirus, has sent shockwaves as well as carriers throughout the globe.
Recent cases of patients who have contracted the virus in countries such as South Korea, Italy, and even the United States have only added to increasing worldwide paranoia and led to many national governments taking precautionary measures to prevent the disease from spreading.
Providence College students who are currently spending a semester abroad in Italy now find themselves in the path of contamination with growing numbers of patients admitted to hospitals in regions such as Lombardy and Veneto. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) as well as the State Departments have both since ranked Italy at Level 3 for “Avoid Nonessential Travel” and “Reconsider Travel,” respectively.
In a recent email to PC students abroad in Rome from Dean of Global Education Joe Stanley, PC students have the choice of continuing their programs onsite through remote coursework or returning home to the U.S. while also completing courses remotely for credit. Those students who elect to return are not offered housing back on PC’s campus nor are their travel costs covered by the College.
“As of right now, it seems as though we are in what I would call a ‘limbo period,’” explained Sean Breuche ’21, who is currently studying in Rome. “Our classes are suspended until March 16, and more and more universities/colleges with students in Rome are being instructed to leave the country for the United States. Given past conversations with these students, it feels that a majority of them will be taking online courses upon their return to the States.”
Breuche also noted how he and his classmates continue to receive constant communication from his host university, CEA Global Education, as well as Dean of Global Education Grace Cleary. The students themselves are well-aware of the media’s hyperbolic presentation of the virus, but Breuche explained that they all simply want closure as to what their situation will be.
“While all of us Providence College students want to stay here (after all, it’s paradise here), we just want an answer as soon as possible. I am sure PC is looking out in our best interest, but I strongly feel that they are currently delaying the inevitable, in that Italy will only become more infected and we will have to return home in the near future,” commented Breuche.
However, not all PC students abroad have reason for high hopes. Olivia Moss ’21 studied in Florence with Fairfield University Abroad before Fairfield University made the executive decision to send her home to Long Island, NY.
“The PC students and I all went through Fairfield so Fairfield ultimately made the decision to send us home,” Moss explained. “Our school in Florence (FUA), however, did not close or even cancel our classes so I’m personally really upset that Fairfield made this decision so quickly without consulting FUA for advice.”
Moss continued stating her frustration, saying, “When a few students and I went to talk to FUA, they weren’t even aware that we were being sent home and that Fairfield cancelled our program. Now, we have been sent home with no information from Fairfield on what their plan is because they won’t accept online forms of the classes we have been taking for the last month at FUA.”
Additionally, Moss and her classmates did not get refunds for the costs incurred in travelling back home, alongside the lack of direction for how their academic semester will proceed. The students were, however, offered housing on Fairfield University’s campus and were permitted to take online classes from there or the comfort of their own homes.
“There is also talk of normal classes offered at Fairfield but they haven’t formed any kind of construct for the remainder of the semester and we’re supposed to resume classes March 16,” Moss added.
PC has since reached out to Moss and her classmates via email to assure them of the school’s commitment to getting their credits transferred in their talks with Fairfield University.
As of March 2, the annual liberal arts honors program trip was cancelled due to escalating concerns about a potential coronavirus outbreak while visiting Paris, France. This announcement comes a day following the closing of the Louvre Museum for similar fears, as well as discussions between trip chairs Drs. Stephen Lynch and Suzanne Fournier with the PC Global Education Office and tour company EF Tours.
With inflated fears over this supposed super virus continuing to mount to dizzying heights back home in the U.S. and elsewhere, it remains to be seen what lies in store for PC students abroad in other countries in the coming weeks.
What to Know Before You Go: Tips for PC Students Who Want to Go Abroad
by Sienna Strickland ’22
It’s official: abroad season is upon us. Providence College has given applicants the green light. Students are saving up their money and they are applying to their programs. They are consulting with advisors and other adults in their lives, asking for helpful advice and recommendation letters. They are also, and perhaps rightfully so, panicking.
Getting approval from the College is only the beginning; there is still much left to be done for those planning to go abroad next year, and deadlines are slowly but surely inching closer and closer. People are asking: “How can I afford this?” “Will my credits transfer?” “How will I live?” “Will I be safe?” amongst many other inquiries. Who can they turn to for help?
Dean Joe Stanley and Assistant Dean Grace Cleary are a place to start for students in search of these answers. Working for the College’s Center for Global Education, they get students coming in and asking these questions every day.
“A common concern students have regarding going abroad is paying for it,” Stanley says. “Students have the option to try applying for aid from our Santander Bank. It is our corporate partner on campus, who allocates funds to help students abroad cover their costs.”
Cleary adds her own advice, and it is positive news for students who receive financial aid packages: “When going abroad, you are charged PC tuition, meaning that your PC financial aid package is also carried over. For example, if you receive a Pell Grant here, you will receive it abroad, and some providers, like SIT [the School for International Training] will give you extra funding on top of that.”
What if you wanted to switch studies? Cleary generally discourages students from doing so this late in the process, saying: “At this point, we generally advise against students switching their chosen abroad program, unless there is an appropriate reason, such as them declaring a new major or dropping an old one. One reason for this is that the visa application process can be lengthy, and we want students to have ample time to complete it.”
Andrew Balmer ‘20, talks about his application process, and how getting a visa was the most difficult part for him. “The application process through the school was actually pretty straightforward. My grades were good and I had no disciplinary issues. The difficulty for me was then applying for a student visa for Austria. I had to have multiple copies of a lot of different forms, along with bank statements from my parents since they would be the ones supporting me while I was in Austria, and my passport and birth certificate. I had to take all of these documents to the Austrian consulate in New York. I turned over everything I had and then crossed my fingers. Two weeks later my passport came in the mail with the visa document glued onto one of the pages.”
Dean Stanley gives another reason against switching late in the process, saying, “If students are seeking to re-apply to one of our flagship programs, we cannot guarantee them room. There is a cap limit for each of them.”
The different flagship programs are Civ in London, PC in Rome, PC in Shanghai, EDU in Belfast, and EDU in Florence. PC in Shanghai has been delayed for the semester, due to China being labeled as a level four on the U.S. Department of State’s Travel Advisory’s scale because of the recent coronavirus outbreak.
Another common concern was the safety of the visiting countries. “Every country on our list has been vetted and deemed safe, with consultation from our legal council and committees, as well as informed by rankings done by the travel advisory,” Stanley says.
“We continue to address these issues during our pre-departure orientation event,” Cleary says. This event is held shortly before abroad students leave to prepare them for their upcoming semesters. “There we cover everything students need to know immediately before leaving,” she explains.
In addition to wanting a wider outreach, Stanley says that the College would like PC students to engage in more diverse travel locations as well. “For the PC in Shanghai program, we were offering free housing to give people the extra incentive to go,” says Stanley. Only a handful of people signed up.
This is because, for the most part, PC students enroll in more well-known locations. “85 percent of people travel to Europe,” Stanley remarks. ”And then those people come back and tell the underclassmen all about how amazing those places were, and we see a repeating pattern of who goes where. It helps create this kind of stigma in favor of some countries over others,” Cleary adds.
The deans hope to increase membership in these less sought after programs by first increasing student awareness of their existence. However, other limitations including rigorous course schedules, incompatible program requirements, and extraneous costs for flights, housing, food, and other living expenses, must also be accounted for.
“We still recognize the limitations that keep people from going despite our efforts, whether it be they are unable to fit going abroad into their rigorous schedules, they cannot find a program that fits their studies, or they can’t afford it. We are always there to help a student find the right program for them, and assist in any way we can, especially in pointing them in the right direction for extra scholarship opportunities,” Stanley says.
The Center for Global Education’s walk-in hours are every Tuesday and Wednesday from 1-4 p.m. in Harkins 215. If you are unable to make these times, call 401.865.2114 to schedule an appointment.
Oh, The Places You’ll Go: PC Students Take Learning Outside the Classroom During Maymesters
by Kelly Martella ’21
Many students spend time traveling during the summer vacation; others continue their studies and take courses during the break. Maymesters provide students the opportunity to do both of these things — all within the first few weeks of summer.
This year, Providence College offered two programs — one in Europe, and one in Africa.
A Maymester is generally a six-week course: five full days of class on campus, 10-14 days travelling abroad, and a few weeks upon return to work on an independent research project.
The programs can be a bit of a whirlwind due to the condensed time frame, but it is a fair trade considering the material is equivalent to that covered in a 14-week semester. Maymesters can also be great options for students who do not want to spend a full semester studying abroad or are unable to do so, with past participants calling them “incredible,” “fascinating,” and “a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Since the program’s introduction in, courses have covered a variety of topics and reached many destinations, ranging from the Road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain and Portugal to the relationship between the U.S. and Japan. Each course is taught by a group of professors across different disciplines, allowing students to explore a topic from many angles and develop a more complete perspective.
For example, Margaret Manchester, professor of history, Eric Bennett, professor of English, and Eric Sung, professor of art and art history, led this year’s trip entitled U.S. and the Cold War in Eastern Europe.
The group traveled to Germany, Poland, and Hungary, visiting sites like the Berlin Wall, the Gdansk Solidarity Shipyards, the Warsaw Palace of Culture and Science, and the thermal baths in Budapest.
While the main focus of the course was history, students could also fulfill the fine arts requirement. Students learned about photography both on campus and abroad, and most completed a digital storytelling project upon returning from the trip.
Another Maymester group traveled to Ghana as part of the course Sustainability and Social Values: Systems Approach to Complex Problem Solving. The program started when the late Dr. Stephen J. Mecc, Ph.D. ’64 & ’66G took research students to Ghana in 2010.
The trip became a yearly event under Dr. Mecca, as students problem-solved and applied their solutions to real world issues. One year, for instance, they developed a flushing-valve toilet that required less than a cup of water. Students across majors were involved in the project. Some engineered the toilet, others translated the instruction manual, and others worked in educating the community.
Since Dr. Mecca’s passing in 2018, his legacy has continued to live on in the Ghanaian community. A book drive was held on campus during the spring, and donations were brought to schoolchildren in Ghana.
This year, professor Comfort M. Ateh accompanied the program and documented the group’s experience in real-time on Twitter.
Six of the students were recipients of the Gallo Global Health Fellowship, a fund established by Robert C. Gallo, M.D. ’59 & ’74Hon. and his wife, Mary Jane Gallo, for annual service-oriented summer internships for students from multiple academic disciplines in clinical settings in the United States and abroad. Dr. Gallo is globally renowned for his breakthrough discoveries in HIV research, something the Fellows saw firsthand when they participated in HIV testing and counseling program.
The Maymester course offerings for 2020 will see programs in Cuba, England, Italy, and South Korea.