Amanda DeCesaro teaches and inspires at Chongshin University. She is an amazing bundle of energy that truly enjoys Korea and her people.
How did you become involved in Christian English language teaching?
After graduating university with a degree in Animal Science, the last thing I thought I would be doing is teaching. I went on to become a missionary with the formerly named Campus Crusade for Christ in Australia. I had previously attended a missions conference in Busan but it was in Australia where I discovered my love for the Korean people. Many of my students were Chinese or Korean and I even shared a house with two girls from Busan. Following my two -year commitment to serve in campus ministry, I knew God was calling me to Korea.
I began looking into opportunities that would take me to Korea and as most could guess, the only opportunities I came across were teaching positions. If I had still been in college I may have given up; however, Australia also showed me that I had potential for teaching others. I realized guiding others to understanding brought me great joy and also served as a tool to form relationships. Looking back it is evident in how God led me and prepared me to teach English in Korea. I did not want to arrive unprepared, so prior to applying for any positions I completed an SIT TESOL program. The training I received as a missionary combined with my education set me on the path for missional language teaching. And I cannot be more grateful for how God has used my life so far.
How long have you been here?
I have been in Korea for five years. I spent my first year at an English village and the past four years I have been teaching at Chongshin University. It has gone by so fast and I hope to be here for much longer.
What is the most challenging aspect of Korean culture for you?
One challenge that I have often discussed with my students is being the “foreigner” which I have found to be equivalent to “outsider”. On several occasions I have expressed to friends that even if I were to fluently learn Korean, gain citizenship, and assimilate as much as possible I would never be fully accepted into Korean society. It is not that I desire to do so, but the outsider feelings are definitely felt. However, God has been teaching me through this and shown me unique opportunities only a foreigner could have. Most of my students are more open with me because I’m not Korean, and so I am able to offer support and advice they would otherwise not receive. While sharing with some of my North Korean students that this was the most difficult part of living in Korea they expressed a similar notion. North Koreans often try to hide their dialect and accent in fear of being found out that they are from the North. Because many South Koreans view them as separate from the current society, my students have shared that they too feel like outsiders. Having this in common has helped me connect better with the North Koreans I minister to. I have grown to see this challenge as a blessing, sometimes a painful blessing, but a blessing nonetheless.
What aspects of Korean culture do you particularly enjoy?
This summer I was able to visit my family back in Wisconsin and while reverse culture shock was not as dramatic as I have experienced in the past, I definitely was able to reflect on Korea. I was missing my friends and church as I expected but I also missed some things I had just taken for granted while living in Seoul. Whenever I went to a restaurant people just ordered their own food and would not share. I wanted to order a variety of food and share with everyone, just as I often do in Korea.
Another thing I noticed about the food was that most things tasted very salty or very sweet. Korea had changed my taste buds, but probably for the better especially for my health. For several days I was without a car and my family members were all working. Forced to stay at my parents’ home, I felt stranded and longed for the very convenient transportation of Seoul. Even though my interactions with people were very different, I couldn’t exactly put my finger on what it was. Although I knew it, this trip caused me to really feel the fact that Korean culture had changed me; things I had viewed as strange are now normal and I really enjoy many things. The main aspects I enjoy are food, language, fashion, and many relational interactions.
What other ministries are you a part of?
I attend New Harvest Ministry (NHM) which is the English ministry of Sarang Church. It was here that I really got connected. I am currently a small group leader, as well as a team leader. As a leader I am able to see others grow closer to God and with each other. It has several challenges but I love my group members. Team leading has had its own challenges, but coming alongside other leaders and helping them with their struggles and having the opportunity to pray for them is really great. Soon after I started attending NHM I became involved in Sarang’s North Korean ministry. The ministry runs a school called Banseok, preparing young North Korean students for university. These students, just like my Chongshin students, have become my kids, brothers and sisters, and friends. I love them all so dearly.
How do you connect your faith to your teaching?
Just as naturally as breathing is how I desire my faith to fuel everything I do in my life. I look for and create teachable moments in each class. Because I teach at a Christian university I have the unique opportunity to be extremely open about my faith. Praying with my students during class and asking for prayer requests for me to pray throughout the week is one of those amazing opportunities. I do not think I would teach much differently in a secular environment, though my speech may not be as overt, I would still seek out times to impress the love and wisdom of God upon my students.
Do you think there is a Christian way to teach English?
I believe there is a Christian way of doing everything, not in the sense of morality or in the act itself, however, the very fact that as a Christian we are a new creation. Christ Himself dwells within me and my worldview is very different from someone who doesn’t know Christ. I see with an eternal perspective and ideally everything I do is for the glory of God. Though externally many things I do may look similar to a non-Christian, God looks to the heart of a man. When it comes to teaching English I see so many wonderful opportunities to glorify God and love my students as Christ. Because I am entrusted with the responsibility to not only teach a language but also communication and human interaction, I do not view what I do simply as a vocation but as a calling. God has gifted language to us because we are beings of relationship. Because I personally know the creator of us and of language I am even more deeply equipped to teach with a perspective that reflects God’s original design. With themes of reconciliation, justice, real love, and so much more English does not simply remain a language that must be learned for various secular reasons, it becomes a means for deeper connection.