Messages on a bridge in Seoul are meant to remind residents of their family and friends. This one says, “Have you eaten yet?” Reuters/Lee Jae-Won
South Korea, also known as the Republic of Korea, is the southern part of the Korean peninsula in the East that holds about 50 million people. Behind the country’s progress as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world is a story of great heartbreak. South Korea has the highest suicide rate of all OECD member countries. These graphs only begin to tell of its long struggle…
Suicide is the leading cause of death among 10- to 19-year-olds in South Korea. Most young South Koreans who commit suicide are believed to do so because of bullying and family problems, and every day, 219 cases of school violence are reported.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to go back to South Korea through a program that brought 9 Stanford students to teach English in a more rural part of the country called Geochang. We worked with over 200 middle school students, teaching them various subjects in English.
I had participated in the program as a teacher the previous year. But through a series of different events, I was placed into a position this year that would allow me to develop the curriculum and supervise the teachers. The really cool part was that in one of our classes this year (social studies), we decided to integrate social justice themes on bullying. The curriculum is by no means perfect and needs more work for sure, but we had hoped that it was a start in a good direction.
Besides learning the English to talk about bullying, students participated in an anti-bullying campaign where they were able to vocalize their stand against bullying through posters. Students also learned the different terminologies and strategies of dealing with bullying and becoming an upstander. Teachers, of course, had the academic and professional freedom to adapt the lessons in their classrooms, but were given a curriculum that both implicitly and explicitly reflected Jesus’ example (John 8 – “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”).
I think this trip was significant for me because I not only realized that God often puts very precious things into our hands, but also, that we always have some degree of freedom to decide what to do with it (Matthew 25:14). I remember feeling a weird sense of “fear” when I realized I actually had a strong say in deciding what got taught and how. And that it was God Himself who favored me into this position. It’s scary and exciting at the same time.
I believe that as Christians in graduate/professional school…just like Daniel and Esther…we may enter into a time of preparation in which we are called to learn “the language and literature of the Babylonians” (Daniel 1:4) or even to complete “12 months of beauty treatments” (Esther 2:12). But soon enough if not already, we may also enter into times when we are given an opportunity to decide what to do with it the very precious things God has placed into our hands.
Daniel and Esther responded with integrity, excellence, revelation and courage, and I believe that we will too.
Rise up, Daniels and Esthers…may we go forward in boldness! “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).