By Erin Kwon
This 2020-21 school year will unfortunately be the last year at ICSU for Secondary English Teacher Ms. Amy Lee, who has been an integral figure to the ICSU community since she joined the ICSU community in the beginning of the year.
Although Ms. Lee taught at ICSU for only “one short but intense and meaningful year come June,” she has taught an immense number of courses to a broad range of grade levels. She taught eighth grade US History, ninth grade Grammar and Composition, tenth grade World Literature, and eleventh-twelfth grade Advanced Writing. Not only that, but Ms. Lee was extensively involved in the community as well, as she served as the National Honor Society (NHS) adviser and the Girls’ Soccer conditioning coach.
Ms. Lee has also made many memories in the process. For Ms. Lee, “the highlights of my time here are reading journal entries detailing the ongoing sagas of ninth-grade life, the eighth graders never failing to make me laugh with their ‘extra’ humor, the classroom art gallery featuring renderings of oversized insects and ancient Greek superheroes and deities, and getting pummeled multiple times with balls kicked, hit, or thrown with excessive energy.”
Despite her short time here, Ms. Lee has forged meaningful relationships with her students and her students have also developed a profound appreciation for her. Junior Lillian Rhee said, “I really enjoyed taking Ms. Lee’s Advanced Writing class. I especially loved the creative projects because it helped me open my eyes to new perspectives and new wisdom. One thing I really appreciated about Ms. Lee was her thoughtfulness.”
Junior Hannah Ko, who also took Ms. Lee’s Advanced Writing and Composition class, said, “I was surprised and amazed at the way we could interweave art, music, videos, and literature all together in English class. We learned so much by combining perspectives in a way I didn’t imagine before. I also liked spending time outside, and we made many fun memories in English class this year.”
Those of us who have the benefit of multiple cultural perspectives are uniquely positioned to use our experiences and education to benefit those around us.”
In response to the question of what ICSU was like for her, Ms. Lee said, “ICSU is a universe unto itself. I will likely continue to ponder the significance of the time I spent here years into the future. As a Korean-American—a minority in the US, a minority in Korea—I had never worked or attended school where the majority of the community was like me—ethnically Korean and multicultural with roots in diverse places. I have learned as much from all of you as you have learned from me. Integrating and reconciling multiple cultural identities can be a difficult, complex endeavor; in addition, whether we grew up in Korea or elsewhere, Korea’s troubled history forces us to bear its burdens in some form: rigid social hierarchies, gender roles, parental expectations, and academic, religious, and societal pressures. Those of us who have the benefit of multiple cultural perspectives are uniquely positioned to use our experiences and education to benefit those around us.”
Before Ms. Lee came to teach at ICSU, she was living and working in various parts of the United States. “I’ve led a nomadic existence for most of my life. I was born and raised in Southern California, left at age eleven for Michigan when my father decided to go to seminary to become a minister, then moved to the Washington, D.C. area for high school. I moved again several times as a college student and as an adult for work, school, and family—to Northern California and San Francisco Bay Area; Atlanta, Georgia; Boston, Massachusetts; Portland, Oregon; then back to Boston.”
Education and schooling has been a major part of Ms. Lee’s life so far, whether it be when receiving or providing it. She said, “I took the long route to getting my formal education, taking necessary breaks and finally finishing college when my son was a young child. I started college as an art major, switched to English, then finished with music. I moved to Boston to pursue graduate studies in music, but ended up leaving the program to work full time to support my son. We moved to Oregon where my parents had moved, to receive their support while I went back to grad school to become an English teacher. I completed my teaching internship in the Portland Public Schools, then moved back to Boston to work as an academic program coordinator and adviser to college students at Harvard University, where I last worked before coming to Korea.”
Ms. Lee didn’t move to Korea with the intent of working as a teacher, but originally moved to “experience the country, the people, the history, and the culture” when her son left for college. “[Korea] only existed as an imaginary place constructed primarily from family members’ stories and depictions from dramas, movies, and news stories, apart from a couple brief visits at ages 17 and 20.”
“My plan was to test out living here for six months to see whether I wanted to stay longer. While finally being in Korea to experience it firsthand was a dream come true, as the first months progressed, I became desperate to move back to the U.S. and was ready to leave at the end of my six-month term, when COVID hit. It became evident that staying put was the better choice, and I wanted to give life in Korea a fair chance, as I believed, and still do, that there’s more to unearth and accomplish here.”
During her stay, an ICSU alum introduced Ms. Lee to ICSU, and to Mr. and Mrs. Havill, presenting the opportunity to teach here. “I hopped on Line 1 from Hoegi where I had been living and working, up to Nogyang to check out the school, and the rest is (a blip in) history.”
While Ms. Lee isn’t certain about her future plans or aspirations, she is open to ideas. Ms. Lee said, “Prior to becoming a mother at a relatively young age, I aspired to be an artist but hadn’t determined what kind. I set out for Korea largely to resume this pursuit. I’m not sure if I should be a storyteller, songwriter, visual artist, or filmmaker, or work in multiple art forms—I’ve always had a hard time choosing.”
Another one of her possible future plans involves promoting the welfare of Korea. She said, “A separate but possibly related pursuit involves my long-held desire to see the entire Korean peninsula thrive and flourish. As much as I tried as an American to “escape” the hold of my Korean heritage, which felt problematic, my well-being feels somewhat tied to the well-being of other Koreans, including those who live without the rights and freedoms that others of us enjoy and take for granted.”
To exist, to have been born at all, is to have the opportunity to know God and co-author a life of adventure with Him.
Ms. Lee also provided some much-needed advice for ICSU students. She said, “to exist, to have been born at all, is to have the opportunity to know God and co-author a life of adventure with Him. Our time on earth is brief and the next moment is not guaranteed. To live without taking risks—risking rejection—is to avoid living fully and freely. Unforgiveness steals your life and destroys you—don’t hold on to it. By remaining authentic, you will attract those who appreciate you for who you truly are. Treasure those you love and don’t hold back in letting them know how much they mean to you.”