By Capt. Austin Liu, 6-52nd Air Defense Artillery, 35th ADA Brigade Public Affairs July 11, 2011
SUWON AIR BASE, South Korea - Andy Kim could not be happier today.
He has learned interesting facts about Sponge Bob Square Pants and the synopsis of the latest Transformer movie.
But what really made him smile today is that he has finally summoned enough courage to tell his fellow students in English the reason why Tae Kwon Do is his favorite sport.
Sharing Kim’s joy is Staff Sgt. Clementina Cano-perez, one of the volunteer instructors for the Youth English program hosted by the Soldiers of 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery here at Suwon Air Base every Monday and Wednesday night.
As Kim stood up and explained to everyone about winning the blue belt from Tae Kwon Do club, Cano-perez could not be prouder of her student’s accomplishment.
Cano-perez grew fond of the 7-year-old child ever since the first day he came into her class.
“Andy was extremely shy when he first came to the class with his mother,” Cano-perez recalled. “I remember his mother was not sure if he should be in the class or not but I assured her everything will be Ok.”
Cano-perez quickly added that “almost immediately, she knew Andy was very smart and eager to learn,” noting that Kim is the youngest student in the class and has been learning English since he was four.
The Mission, Texas native spent extra time after each class with Andy to improve his English and to help him overcome his shyness. The two developed a special bond.
“One day, I got a call from Andy’s mother thanking me for helping her son, and that Andy cannot stop talking about his favorite teacher,” said Cano-perez. “It was truly heartwarming to know that I am making a difference.”
And the difference did not stop there.
“In the last few classes, I noticed he [Andy] is slowly opening up. He participated more and even started to ask questions during class,” Cano-perez chuckled. “He surprised all of us when he won a check on learning game we played and took home all the chocolates!”
Cano-perez, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Suwon Air Base clinic, and a decorated Iraq War veteran, expressed that participating in the English program has truly being “one of the most rewarding experience she had since joining the Army.”
The English program, which first started in 2009, is going into its eighth semester, a testament of its popularity with the American Soldiers, parents, and of course, the students.
Classes are held every week with more than 20 American volunteer teachers and 80 students, divided into eight different classes based on skill level.
The program is opened to all children belonging to the families of Republic of Korea Air Force 10th Fighter Wing who are stationed at Suwon Air Base with the Iron Horse Battalion.
Recently, the English program has also opened to adults, mainly curious ROK Air Force personnel who want to find out for themselves why their children are so excited about Monday and Wednesday nights and to refresh their English conversation skill along the way.
Spc. Kristin Dwyer of Headquarters Battery, 6-52nd Air Defense Artillery, one of the primary instructors for the adult English class, discovered that she is learning as much as she has taught her students during the class.
“We [U.S. instructors] initially started the class to teach English to our students [ROK Air Force personnel] but we soon discovered that during each class, we are actually learning more about Korean culture and lifestyle from our students,” said Dwyer, a Fort Wayne, Ind., native.
“Together, we embarked on a journey of mutual appreciation and mutual discovery of the differences and even more importantly the similarities between our two cultures,” Dwyer continued.
Cano-perez concluded, “This is my 3rd semester teaching English, and at the end of the day, we are proud to know that we have represented the United States of America well to the local nationals, especially the children who are at the most impressionable time of their lives.”