Retired GI, wife volunteer as English teachers to Korean kids
PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — “OK, kids, ready? Simon says put your left arm up. Simon says put your right arm up. Simon says … touch your nose. Touch your face.”
Playing Simon Says was not part of Donald L. Wilson’s job as a soldier during the 1968 Tet Offensive in South Vietnam, nor of any other job during his 20 years in the Army.
But these days, playing games is just one of the things the retired master sergeant and his Korean-born wife, Hye-suk, do when volunteering to teach English to dozens of South Korean youngsters who are fellow residents of the Woobang III apartment complex in Waegwan, South Korea.
Wilson, 61, also volunteers these days at Camp Carroll at the Area IV Support Activity, working with the post’s information management office. In April he was named Area IV’s civilian volunteer of the year for his work at IMO.
But the unpaid teaching he and his wife have been doing since February 2004 is not part of any Army community relations program, just something the couple do on their own for their neighbors, Wilson said.
They teach four nights a week, Tuesdays through Fridays, in a classroom in the complex’s management office. The management built the classroom at the urging of the students’ parents, all of whom are tenants.
They’ve got a total of 46 youngsters right now, and average about 20 per class, Wilson said. They’ve given each kid an English name, which they use during the classes.
“We teach preliminary English,” he said. “My wife and I are not certified teachers by any means. My wife is a certified Korean-English interpreter. We teach the classes together. My wife is very, very instrumental in the whole thing.
“They enjoy Simon but we try not to do that too often,” Wilson said. “We try to stay with our curriculum in the book. I do the pronunciations of words that are hard in English and put key phrases on the board.”
“Yesterday,” Wilson said Thursday, “we got into things like ‘square,’ ‘circle,’ ‘rectangle,’ ‘triangle,’ that type of stuff. That was with the younger kids.
“ … The older kids tackle whole phrases: ‘Go to the corner.’ ‘Open the window.’ ‘My name is Joe. Glad to meet you. How are you?’”
And there are occasional field trips to Camp Carroll, also in Waegwan, “to interact with soldiers so they can learn how to talk,” Wilson said. “We take them on field trips to the swimming pool down here so they can interact with the people.”
They do the teaching “because there was a need for it,” Wilson said. “We have lived there at Woobang for a while and we found the need to have the kids learn English. A lot of these kids are from families that can’t really afford to send their kids to English classes.” His classes are aimed at filling that gap, he said.
The effort is not directly related to the Army’s Good Neighbor Program community relations efforts, said Area IV spokesman Kevin Jackson. “But indirectly it contributes … ,” he said.
“As an American living in the community and Department of the Army civilian retiree,” Jackson said of Wilson, “the Korean people in the community recognize him as a part of our community, so anything he does in the community relations realm certainly contributes to making Waegwan a better place for our soldiers, civilian employees and their family members to live, as well as the Koreans in the local community.”