Have you heard about Guatemala’s education system? Perhaps it is something that you could not commonly experience. Luckily, I interviewed Woo Choong-whan, who was a professor of the department of English Education.
1. First, would you tell me about your career? I heard you had worked at Kyungnam University for a while. I would appreciate it if you could share it with me.
“I majored in English Education at both Yonsei University and the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Then I became an English professor at the Korea Naval Academy. Afterward, I worked at Kyungnam University, Teachers’ College, where I taught both pre-service and in-service teachers. Recently, I worked for three years with the Ministry of Education in Guatemala, as a Senior Advisor from the World Friend Korea (WFK) organization.”
2. I have seen universal values of advanced culture shake by showing a number of contradictory behaviors that are contrary to my expectations in many places that I thought were advanced countries in culture and education. What do you think about this, professor?
“I think the speed at which Korea was able to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak highlights, in certain aspects, how far we have come and how much we have grown as a society and culture. And before making any assumptions or statements about other nations’ responses during the pandemic, it is important to try to understand more about the unique circumstances and cultures, which are more complex than just the visible aspects. Since values, world views, belief systems, and perceived diversity all contribute to the culture, it is necessary to take a more holistic approach in trying to understand different nations and their responses during the pandemic. The important lesson that we should all take away from the past several months is that we, including developing nations, should try to cooperate together and not always rely so much on or simply imitate the actions and structure of the superpower nations so that more of us can also mature in our own ways that accentuate our unique strengths.”
3. What led you to work in Guatemala, and what was your field and work?
“I have always been interested in doing educational work in developing nations so I applied to be an IT advisor with the National IT Industry Promotion Agency (NIPA). I was accepted and sent to Guatemala to work with the Ministry of Education. While in Guatemala, I established an e-learning system and launched a program of national virtual distance education (PRONEA). In addition, I was a consultant with matters dedicated to bridging the digital gap between urban and rural areas.”
4. If you have anything to tell us about the innovative changes that take place in Guatemala's education, please let us know. In addition, did Korean education and culture (K-pop) affect Guatemala's education?
“In the 16th century, Guatemala was not even marked on world maps, and they had suffered a lot under the treacherous rule of European colonizers. However, Guatemala is revolutionizing its education system with e-learning and STEAM today. In this process, Guatemala is using the Korean system, the only nation that has gone from receiving aid to giving aid, as the model and trying to learn our education and IT systems. Korea also works diligently in giving assistance through various efforts, such as providing annual training for teachers and computers for schools. As with other Latin American countries, Guatemala is no exception to K-pop fever. I was once very surprised to see a large-scale venue packed with young, cheering spectators for a K-pop contest in downtown Guatemala.”
5. What are the differences between Guatemala's university students and Korea's in terms of value, learning, attitude, class atmosphere, etc.?
“Guatemalan students care most about friendliness rather than age or authority in their social interactions and care very little about perception by others. Unlike Korean students, they are very active in class, asking many questions and engaging in discussions. Guatemalan students also are not focused on grades or simply rush through assignments just to get them done. Even when taking exams or doing projects, they are more relaxed. During my time as a senior advisor, I was able to learn so much by living with Guatemalans and absorbing their way of life, which was both humble yet rich in culture and nature.”
6. Lastly, if you have anything you really want to say, please tell me.
“The world is getting closer, making interactions and cooperation more important now and even in the future. People should embrace the changing world with open minds and hearts. While it is impossible to predict which direction such a dynamic world will take, such new situations and surroundings are not things to be feared or avoided but looked at as interesting opportunities to learn something new. I hope that people can all continue to find happiness by learning new things and exploring the world.”