Do you ever feel like essay-writing can be tough? Me, too. Now just imagine being asked to write an essay when you have never heard of the concept of making an argument, and you don’t know what the internet is. Suki Kim taught English for six months at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology in North Korea, and wrote a revealing memoir about her experiences with attempting to familiarize her students with the concept of an essay:
Essay was a much-dreaded word among my students. It was the fall of 2011, and I was teaching English at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology in North Korea. Two hundred and seventy young men, and about 30 teachers, all Christian evangelicals besides me, were isolated together in a guarded compound, where our classes and movements were watched round the clock. Each lesson had to be approved by a group of North Korean staff known to us as the “counterparts.” Hoping to slip in information about the outside world, which we were not allowed to discuss, I had devised a lesson on essay writing, and it had been approved.
Kim continually faced challenges teaching her students–not about the finer points of grammar, but about the basic framework of engaging with an audience, making an argument, and backing it up with evidence. She found that these were all concepts that, even in their late teens-early 20s, her students had never been exposed to before. At one point she described assigning her students a short paragraph about a kimchi-making tradition and receiving nationalist polemics in which nearly half the students proclaimed that “kimchi was the most famous food in the world, and that all other nations were envious of it.”
Interested? Read more here.