By Jim Cunningham IMCOM KOREAFebruary 18, 2009
UIJEONGBU - Employees of the provincial government of Gyeong-Gi gathered in a conference room in their building in downtown Uijeongbu Feb. 12 to honor and give appreciation to their volunteer English teacher Spc. Dan Merwin. Merwin volunteered to teach more than 20 students every Thursday evening in order to improve their English conversation as well as reading and writing skills.
"They are giving me an appreciation plaque for volunteering to teach English," Merwin said. "Korea is a part of me, though I did not know it at first when I came to this country. All I knew was it was in my blood. My mother is Korean and my father is American."
Merwin believes he has learned as much about Korea as his students have learned about English.
"Teaching English is a great opportunity for these folks to learn, not only English conversation, but English customs; in this case, American customs," Merwin said. "I teach more than just English, American slang and humor as well. The students are from 30 to 50 years of age and appreciate learning."
Because Merwin is a member of the 2nd Infantry Division Band, he promised he would bring his instrument, a snare drum, to class and play for them. This occasion being his last chance to do so, prompted more students to show for class than normally would attend.
"The tune I will play for them tonight is called 'and the kitchen sink,' it is called that because it features everything a drummer can do," Merwin said. "I will play all this on a snare drum, and I will probably improvise the second tune because I forgot my music."
After Merwin leaves, the class will not lose pace. In the words of the employees team leader, "an old English proverb says 'a rolling stone gathers no moss,' so we must continue our class without interruption."
Merwin's replacement is Spc. Elliott Chodkowski, a pianist with the 2ID Band.
"I have known Dan for more than a year now," Chodkowski said. "We trained together and we both came to Korea. We have something in common, both being half Korean."
Chodkowski is no stranger to teaching English. He taught creative writing to community college students.
"I have experience teaching adults how to write short stories and poetry, so teaching adults will not be new to me," Chodkowski said. "I am eager to find those who sit in the back of the class and bring them to the front so they can participate. I want them to take part in skits and short small group projects."
Chodkowski will not throw his new class into the fire at first. He plans to start slowly and have the class introduce themselves in English with 'getting to know you' activities.
"Each class should have a topic such as going to a restaurant and how to order food," Chodkowski said. "How to interact with family members is another way to start learning conversation, and I like to have projects where the class writes something, like a simple story."
Chodkowski plans to take the class on monthly excursions: movies in English or a restaurant featuring American dishes.
"After all, there are a few Outback restaurants around, and who knows, maybe I can take the class on post for a night," Chodkowski said.