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Air Force Tech. Sgt. Gregory Braxton of the 8th Communications Squadron, Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, teaching English recently to 13-year-olds at a local South Korean school. Braxton is one of more than 30 members of Kunsan's 8th Fighter Wing who volunteer to teach English in area schools on a volunteer basis.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Gregory Braxton of the 8th Communications Squadron, Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, teaching English recently to 13-year-olds at a local South Korean school. Braxton is one of more than 30 members of Kunsan's 8th Fighter Wing who volunteer to teach English in area schools on a volunteer basis. (Courtesy of USAF)

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — Sometimes it takes more than nouns, pronouns, and vocabulary lists to teach English to South Korean school kids.

At least that’s what Air Force Tech. Sgt. Gregory Braxton discovered when he recently began teaching on Saturdays as a volunteer at the Nam Middle School in Kunsan, South Korea.

Braxton is among members of Kunsan’s 8th Fighter Wing who’ve answered the wing’s call for volunteers to teach English on Saturdays in some Kunsan schools. The wing began the program after requests from local school officials eager to bring native English speakers into classrooms.

But Braxton, who began teaching last month, discovered almost at once that English or no English, a lot of the 13-year-old boys in his classes were just plain shy. Even with a Korean-speaking teacher on hand to translate, most of the 40 or so kids would not raise their hands to answer, he said. Instead he’d get blank looks or averted eyes.

So Braxton went shopping at the base exchange and showed up at school the following Saturday morning with him something perhaps more potent than Shakespeare: three bags of sour Blow Pops.

“To inspire them to participate ... I brought American candy,” said Braxton, of Baltimore, chief of the communications systems branch at the wing’s 8th Communications Squadron.

As Braxton ventured a few minutes on the difference between abstract and concrete nouns, he let it be known that “To participate brings forth reward.” He even had the Korean teacher translate that.

Then Braxton asked another question.

“One of the young male students, he took a chance and raised his hand,” Braxton said. “It was pretty neat because, he didn’t ... pop his hand up real quick. He put it up real slow. Kind of hesitant … It’s kind of like when you go to the beach and ‘who’s gonna be the first one to go in the water’ type of thing.”

“And when he raised his hand, I said, ‘This is our first brave student’ … and I walked over to him and I handed him the candy. ‘This is one of the rewards you’ll get for participation,’” Braxton said. “And I had the teacher translate that to make sure they understood.

“That pretty much prompted other students to jump in and participate,” Braxton said. “After that everybody wanted to talk.”

The 8th Fighter Wing kicked off the classes last month, said Capt. Krista Carlos, wing public affairs chief.

Although 35 wing members have volunteered already to teach English on Saturdays, the school system has indicated it could use about 100. “There are like 50 schools out there who’d love volunteers,” said Carlos, “but we just haven’t had the names this year to fill all their requests.”

Both the students and the airmen benefit, she said. “They’re looking to try to learn English from native speakers,” she said. “They can have the … Koreans who learn English” do the teaching “but it’s still not going to be as helpful as if you have somebody who’s spoken it from Day One.” Students also pick up insights into American culture, she said, through questions they ask the volunteers.

Airmen, Carlos said, “get to go out and experience the culture and meet different students and teachers and actually get involved with the local community … They get to spend two or three Saturdays a month talking to the youth, basically the youth of Korea.”

Braxton too thinks volunteering to teach English affords airmen a chance at something “worthwhile” — and to help improve the American image among Korean youngsters.

“For one thing,” he said, “they’re being exposed to Americans above and beyond what they may hear in the news. Hopefully they don’t just have another teacher ... they also have a friend from the United States.”

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