Ross grad shares lessons from life in S. Korea

Posted at 7:01 AM, Jan 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-24 07:01:52-05

As a sixth-grader, Jake Foster didn’t see education as his future field. Yet the Ross High School graduate, who teaches English with his wife at their own school in South Korea, attributes at least some of his success to the district and his former teachers.

As a young student, he said, sixth-grade math and science teacher Stacy Rullman and other Ross teachers instilled in Foster critical-thinking skills and a sense of caring, which now guide him as an educator. “I think Ross greatly prepared me for my life as an adult,” Foster said.

Jake Foster and wife Hanna Lee have traveled from Chuncheong, South Korea, to Ross Township, where Jake grew up, to share Korean culture with Ross Middle School students. (Photo provided)

As a way of showing his appreciation and sharing cultural differences with students, Foster, who graduated from Ross in 2004, visited Rullman’s class with his wife, Hanna Lee, in December. The visit was the second for Foster and his wife: In 2014, they brought a small group of South Korean students with them to meet Rullman and her pupils.

Although the couple was unable to bring students with them this time, they gladly engaged with the Ross Middle School students, teaching them, sharing anecdotes and answering questions about South Korean culture.

“I think it’s kind of neat because I think they expected things to be very different there, but I think they found that there were a lot of similarities about our cultures,” Rullman said. “But it’s also very different, too.”

“You actually have someone who went through the same experience you went through,” said Ross Middle School Principal Chris Saylor. “I think that puts a whole different spin on it for them.”

Although Foster feels he adjusted quickly to the culture in South Korea, where he has lived and taught for seven years, “there are a lot of differences,” he said.

One of the major differences is an emphasis on deference to elders. “They really value age,” Foster said.

On one occasion a former boss settled a disagreement about payment by stating that he was older than Foster.

While respect for elders is deeply ingrained in the culture, South Koreans also show a great deal of respect for foreigners, especially Americans. “They really like foreigners here, which is one of the reasons I’ve stayed so long,” Foster said.

Rullman’s students particularly enjoyed hearing about two-story McDonald’s restaurants that feature foods like shrimp burgers and about customs like sitting on the floor for meals and eating food off other people’s plates.

As Foster talked to her students, Rullman could still see the sociable, energetic demeanor of the youth who took her class nearly 20 years ago. “I think he opened up that door for them to learn as much as they could in a very easygoing way,” she said.

Despite his passion for teaching, Foster didn’t plan to pursue a career in education. An unfavorable economic climate, though, meant “no one was hiring” when he completed his criminal justice degree. “I graduated college in 2008,” he said. “Right then was when the recession hit really bad.”

At the recommendation of a friend who was teaching in South Korea at the time, he decided to do the same.

With their own school in Chuncheon, South Korea, Foster and his wife now teach English to kids at the first- through sixth-grade level. His success is a point of pride for Ross Local Schools as well as an example for students, who may not have considered the possibilities associated with teaching.

“It’s a chance for our kids, who most of them have not had the opportunity to travel outside the country, to see some of the opportunities that are available that they may not have thought of before,” Saylor said.