Culture Designer Kim Jin-Hee.

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Interview with a culture designer – Kim Jin-hee, Dongryeo Lifelong Learning Institute
Date of report: November 10, 2016 (Interviewed on November 6, 2016)
Culture reporter: Kang Ji-hee

The Dongryeo Corporation (the two syllables of its name refer to ‘together’ and ‘a wayfarer’, respectively.) runs a lifelong learning institute, where Ms. Kim Jin-hee has volunteered for nine years. In her elementary school years, Kim took the greatest pleasure in communicating with her teachers through her diary (Korean elementary school students are generally assigned to keep their diaries and have them be checked by their teachers.). She also used to carefully carry special treats for her teachers along the coast of Namwon (a southeastern coastal village of Jeju Island), hoping to share anything good with them. Growing up to be a compassionate woman, she now teaches not just the young but also the elderly.

The Dongryeo Lifelong Learning Institute was founded in 1975, as a night school. It was first a makeshift classroom in a vacant lot, which some local undergraduates opened and managed. Over the past years, Dongryeo has educated nearly 3,000 residents of Jeju. Its management has depended solely on the voluntary participation of the teachers and the monthly donation worth 5,000 won individually made by charitable people. The institute offers educational support to the marginalized including elderly and teenaged students.

Kim learned about Dongryeo while taking an on-the-job training course for story-telling teachers at the Lifelong Education Center of the Jeju Teachers College. She began her teaching career as a story-teller, and then worked as a Korean language teacher. Now teaching history, she has been responsible for the learning of the elderly over the past nine years. Telling her teaching history, she seemed to have so many memories to share as she had been with Dongryeo for so many years.

Those aged men and women who seek learning at Dongryeo were mostly deprived of a chance to be enrolled in their childhood, which we generally take for granted. They come to Dongryeo to have a chance to study in a school system or to have a basic understanding of how to read and write. Most of them were too poor to attend elementary schools in the past. This means many of them seek education secretly at Dongryeo, trying not to reveal their embarrassing illiteracy to their families and relatives. However, their passion for learning is not at all smaller than that of the young.

Teachers at Dongryeo, encouraged by their passion, promote a variety of activities. Each year, the lifelong learning institute holds its arts festival under the slogan of ‘Let’s light a lantern, if not the sun!’ Once, its program included a play offered in the Jeju language. The drama staged by grandmothers and grandfathers was not what they had made up but what they experienced in their daily lives, which appealed to the audience and left a lasting impression.

Kim and her colleagues also developed a new textbook on Hangeul (Korean alphabet) themselves as their students seemed to need more materials in addition to the content of the Korean Literature for Adults, the textbook distributed by the Education Office. Since its first use in 2009, the additional textbook has been very useful for the Hangeul lessons for the elderly students.

Kim also runs the age-old practice of ‘Diary Check’ in her class. Old-aged students who have just learned how to read and write fill their diaries with untidy letters as if written by elementary school students. But the diaries tell the lives of the late-learners as they are. Some students confide their emotional stories, including stories of their impoverished past years, already-grown-up children, and arguments with spouses. The once-little student who loved communicating with her teachers through her diaries more than anything else now communicates with her aged students through their diaries. And it is from this activity how she learns from their lives without any prejudice.

Kim says she can have friendly relationships with the elderly students because of the good memories with her grandmother in childhood. She and her grandma made a perfect team, peddling together and picking pachi (broken or damaged mandarin oranges). When it was cold, they lit a fire in the stove to warm the house up. For her granddaughter who loves reading books, the old lady lit a candle every night. This heartwarming experience helped Kim grow into a warm-hearted and passionate person.

These days, she has keen interest in farming, planting vegetables and fruits in her small field, one by one. This turns her into a student who learns from the elderly. Kim and her students, through companionship, are being teachers for each other.