Leslie Kang has always known she wanted to be a teacher.
“Even when I was younger, I liked to teach people, so I was always pretending to have my own classroom,” says the Northbrook resident and recent Knox College graduate.
Next fall, Kang will get a real classroom of her own—in Korea, where she will teach English to elementary school students on a Fulbright Fellowship. Administered by the U.S. Department of State, the prestigious grants give top American college students the opportunity to teach or study abroad for a year after graduation.
When Kang leaves for her 13-month stint in South Korea July 1, it will be her first time in the country since childhood, when she traveled there with her parents.
“I’m very excited to learn about a different culture, and just really be able to be on my own,” she said. “I’m also really nervous because I haven’t been to Korea in a long time, and I don’t know what to expect.”
Kang will spend her first month in the country doing orientation, then is assigned to a teaching post in a small city, though she doesn’t yet know where. She’ll teach English to several different grade levels, full-time.
On top of that, Kang also hopes to make time to research the role of education in Korean culture.
“In China and Japan and Korea, there is a lot of stress on education, and that is the first priority in a lot of these students’ lives,” she said. She hopes to learn more about what that emphasis on education means for students, so she can better serve Asian American children as a teacher in the U.S. one day.
While Kang says she didn’t experience high pressure to perform in school from her family—“my parents always believed that school should be about the experience as well”—she maintains that there is real emotional and psychological pressure for others.
“I had a lot of friends in high school who were really stressed out and wouldn’t sleep, and a lot of stress came from their families,” she said, adding that traditionally, Asian American students are expected to be smart or do well in math and sciences.
“If I understand the culture behind it more, I think I can come back and understand how these students and their families are feeling,” Kang said.
On top of her schedule teaching and researching, Kang also hopes to volunteer at a local orphanage while she’s in Korea.
“I’ve always had a heart for orphans,” Kang said. “I would love to teach English there, or teach dance.”
Although she majored in English at Knox College, Kang minored in dance and performed with the school’s dance squad and a student-run dance collective. In high school at Glenbrook South (Kang lived on the border of Glenview and Northbrook), she was also on the hip-hop team.
Dance forms as much a basis for Kang’s teaching style as what she learned through her formal teaching education.
“Not everyone learns by listening to the teacher,” she said. “Some students need to move around, or act it out.”
She recalls one summer spent teaching dance to kids in a summer program at Knox College.
“It really helped me broaden my idea of the lesson,” Kang said. “Learning how to teach only academics and learning how to teach physical activity is different.”
Eventally, Kang hopes to bring her teaching style and experience to a classroom in the United States, hopefully in second grade.
“Even when I was younger I liked to teach people,” she said. “I feel like teachers have a really big influence on children’s life.”