Burdette-Dragoo, Anita: Osan AFB High School, Korea: 1995-1996

August 28, 1995 marks the opening day of the new high school on Osan Air Force Base in Korea. Previously, American dependents riding buses to Seoul High were spending three and four hours in traffic, so the Korean government agreed to build a new high school at their expense. Many of us on the new faculty were returning from yearlong leaves of absence.

The new building was a teacher’s dream.  Each classroom had its own television monitor, video machine, computer and laser printer, Class C (military only) telephone, a lockable coat closet for the teacher, white dry-erase boards, and new furniture unmarred by ink marks or chewing gum. 

The cafeteria was large and sunny. An auditorium with stage and cushioned seats could be used by both the school and the base community. When the grass still wasn’t green on the official inauguration day, Korean workers painted it green. 

Only the library was not pristine. All the books came from Berlin High in Germany which had closed that spring. There were way too many books for the new shelves, so parents, teachers, and base personnel were all invited to help the librarian cull the collection for up-to-date publications in good condition. We couldn’t help noticing, though, that not one movie or video was sent and wondering where they went. 

The students, probably for the first time in their lives, could choose their school colors and mascot—the Cougars sporting sky blue and silver. They wrote their own cheers and, with parents and staff, created their own behavior standards which included deciding whether the campus extended across the street to the Burger King or not. They requested the extracurricular activities they wanted, hoping there were adults to sponsor them. And they produced the first full-color yearbook I had seen in my eleven year DoDDS career.  

1995 happened to be the year DoDDS adopted new foreign language texts, choosing D.C. Heath with its emphasis on oral communication. The publishers provided a week of in-service training in Tokyo for all of us teachers in the Pacific Region. The complete program included texts, workbooks, tests, tapes, and videos. 

I enhanced my program by decorating the classroom with flags of French-speaking countries and ordered supplies for a Mardi Gras celebration in the winter – balloons, crepe-paper streamers, beads, and masks. Having had my position RiF’ed three years before, I felt it was a good idea to make studying French fun. The emphasis on speaking and listening lent itself to multiple games, food-tastings, and simulated shopping. A number of students joined French club and chose to sell crêpes at the Wives’ Club bazaar and Mardi Gras “grams” or notes to students as money-making projects. 

This was the first time I had to record grades on the computer, and we received some training on using Windows. (My personal computer was a MAC which was more foreign-language friendly with diacritical markings.) However,  direct dial telephone service to the States was so inexpensive and clear that if internet was available, we never knew it or felt the need for it. 

In the spring, I volunteered for the North Central Accrediting (NCA) team to Iwakuni, Japan. In addition to the team from the States, there were several of us from Okinawa and Korea who bonded during a trip to Hiroshima. At the Marine base, we interviewed parents, teachers, and students and observed classes before preparing our reports.  

The year at Osan was culturally pleasant. The all-new faculty made several outings together to Korean temples and the South Gate market in Seoul. My Korean neighbor and her two children were friendly, sharing Taegu apples and giving me musical greeting cards from her stationery shop. The only English she ever used, though, was a birth announcement one morning as I left for work, pointing to her little fluffy dog and saying “Dog—babies!”

I received a transfer in May to Naples —at last I was returning to Europe, my original goal in 1992. En route, I would spend two weeks in Alexandria, Virginia on the team of 50 teachers evaluating the 19,000 essays from the annual DoDDS Writing Assessment of classes 5, 8, and 10. We sat at round tables with a stack of essays in the middle. Each essay received two readings, marked from 1 to 6 points unless the spread between points was more than one. Then it received a third reading. At the end of each day’s work, we shared some of the best essays and some of the amusing statements. I think my favorite was an account of a 4th of July celebration which concluded with band music and a display of fireworks which the writer called “the Grand Finally.”

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