For the past 18 years, Highland High School art teacher Rhonda Szymanski has been dabbling in East Asian ceramics and art during her classes. This past summer, she decided to dive deeper into the art culture, finding herself on her way to South Korea.
Szymanski just returned from a 17-day study tour in South Korea as part of a class program through Indiana University Bloomington’s East Asian Studies Center in conjunction with the National Consortium for Teaching About Asia and the Freeman Foundation.
As a teacher who already incorporates Korean designs and styles into her classes, Szymanski heard about the class and applied. She became one of 16 U.S teachers of all subjects and teaching experience to travel overseas.
“I am still exhausted, but it was amazing,” she said.
While there, Szymanski and her fellow teachers learned everything to do with East Asia, from the culture and history to the civilization’s history to the language and education. They met Congressmen of the country, and were invited to tour schools. They also visited the military zone. They went and talked to the teachers of an elementary school, a high school for gifted students, and a university.
They spoke with educators and sat in on classes, learning about the differences in Education practices, she added.
They traveled and toured museums, art galleries, temples, palaces, climbed mountains, and even spent a night in a Buddhist Temple!
“We did the 108 prostrations, the bowing all the down to your knees and touching the floor with your nose,” she said. We went to bed at 9 p.m., woke up at 3 a.m. to meditate. We climbed and hiked up a mountain. It was really cool, but our legs were so sore the next day!”
As part of the application to enter, a requirement is for all teachers to show how they would incorporate what they saw and learned in the country into their work into their classroom curriculum.
At the end of the trip, each teacher had to present on ideas for a new curriculum, so Szymanski took what she saw and learned through the art and culture experiences from the trip. Now, she is currently adding new techniques and ideas into the curriculum for her advanced ceramics class, and will present her plan to the staff at the school.
“I was already doing Korean ceramics, but when we went to the National Museum of Korea I saw new things that I didn’t even know about,” she said. “Things like their everyday ceramics, everything was just really, really beautiful!”
Szymanski brought back experiences, new teaching plans and ideas, and about 700 photos from her trip. It was a way to expand her skills in art and teaching, but was also an amazing experience to go back to “school” herself and learns something completely new and different!