Kunsan airmen give back with English lessons
KUNSAN, South Korea — It’s difficult to tell who has more energy on Saturday mornings: Tech Sgt. Patrick Barrett, or the gaggle of South Korean elementary school children to whom he teaches English near Kunsan Air Base.
Barrett gets the children out of their seats and asking each other questions about their Chusok holiday, encouraging them with lots of gesturing and normally-paced sentences.
There is a textbook, at least in theory. But Barrett is usually off the script during his 40-minute sessions.
“When I explain this to people on base, I tell them to think of ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ with Robin Williams, when he tries to teach them a song,” said Barrett, who works in the Logistical Readiness Squadron’s inventory section.
Unfortunately for Kunsan area schools, there aren’t enough Patrick Barretts to go around. There are 19 airmen volunteering their time every other Saturday, down from 63 when the program started in 2001.
Meanwhile, there are about 70 schools that would like a volunteer English teacher from the base, said Rosemary Song, Kunsan Air Base community relations director. Base officials usually make a push for volunteers during the summer and winter school breaks.
During those breaks, the base also supports English camps, where airmen immerse students in American culture. The children practice the language skills they learn in school, but also learn how to buy groceries and use the post office.
The winter camp is fully booked with volunteers, Song said; however, many more are wanted for Saturday mornings.
Barrett said he first volunteered at Okbong Elementary School 10 years ago. When he received orders to come here this year, he quickly volunteered to go back to the school, located about a mile from the base.
Occasionally, he gets a kick out of running into students from 10 years ago who still recognize him.
Even after he moves to his next assignment, Barrett will still be teaching in Kunsan on tapes he has made for the school.
“He’s very good to the students, and they are very glad to meet Americans and talk together,” said Choi Young-ok, a teacher at Okbong Elementary School.