Monday, June 30, 2014

Finding a Home Away From Home

These past two weeks have just flown by, and the pace is not slowing down for the second half of our adventure. We have learned so much about Korea's culture and agriculture, and we've all experienced a lot of "firsts" - from riding a cross-country train, to learning (or at least attempting) the Korean language, getting our fill of spicy foods, and even enjoying some karaoke with our friends from Seoul National University. But amongst all of these new experiences, the highlight of our #AgEd2Korea adventure for me so far has felt like both a "first" and like coming home - our visits to Suwon High School for Agricultural Sciences!

Suwon is the first of our agricultural high school visits and luckily here we were able to split our visits up into three days, which allowed us to tour all of the facilities and micro-teach a lesson of our choosing in two different classes. It was a great time. Suwon has been the highlight so far for me because it is so different yet so similar to my school, WB Saul High School for Agricultural Sciences in Philadelphia, PA.

Student Landscape Design Greenhouse

At Suwon the students are divided into three major tracks - plant science, food science, and mechanical sciences, where the students then more topic specific courses as they advance through school, very similar to the plant science and animal science tracks at Saul. The facilities at Suwon are amazing, and again I could find similarities. Suwon has dozens of greenhouses which it utilizes for various student projects, such as bonsai trees, individual student landscaping displays, and student driven research. There are many large food science labs inside the school, to allow space for all sorts of cooking and baking experimentation. There are also mechanical shop buildings, filled with any shop equipment you can think of from welding hoods to tractor repair areas. They even had a rice harvester!

While Saul may lack some of the facilities available at Suwon, there was a common theme among both schools that I really enjoyed - partnerships. Community partnerships are very important to Suwon High School, which aligns with what we have learned about the importance of cooperation and teamwork in the Korean culture. At Suwon these partnerships are very visible in the amount of community volunteers we saw on-campus. While students are in classes, community volunteers work in the shops and greenhouses, maintaining the shops and greenhouse projects. We saw volunteers working on large-scale flower arrangements for an upcoming festival which came about through the partnership the city of Suwon has with the school.

FFK Emblem Banner
Students have regular school hours from 8am until 4pm, then from 4pm until 6pm is dedicated time for the students to work on their individual projects, work with clubs and other student organizations like FFK, and also time for students to receive extra instruction from graduates of Suwon High School. These graduates come back to the school after work to provide the current students with real-world knowledge and skills they have gained in the work-place as a way to "pay-it-forward" to the next generation.

The importance of community partnerships is vital to any program but I think it was returning graduates helping at Suwon that reminded me of Saul the most. While we also have partnerships with various agriculturally-related businesses in the area, such as the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) we operate on our property, allowing community members to purchase fresh food from the school, similar to the market Suwon operates, we also have many alumni involved with our school who want to "pay-it-forward." I am just one of many alumni who help chaperone school trips, work with students in preparation for shows and competitions, and come out to support the school at banquets and other events.
Chicago HS Hat. Soon a Saul Hat?

I think that Saul and Suwon have a lot in common with each other and could learn a lot from each other. Another aspect of community partnerships that was really fascinating to me was that Suwon expands their community internationally, with exchange programs with Future Farmers of Thaliand (FFT),  Future Farmers of Japan (FFJ), and with the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences in the U.S. Since they already have an established relationship with Chicago, I would love to help develop a relationship between Saul and Suwon and hopefully eventually between Suwon and my future agricultural education program, wherever that may be.

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