Unwanted practicum destination ends up being the right spot for Briercrest student

Posted: August 24, 2000

The road to get to Dujiangyan City was not an easy journey for Gina Bak.

“I didn’t want to go,” the Briercrest College and Seminary TESOL student remembered with a smile. “At least, not at first.” This summer, Bak served as an intern English teacher in China’s Dujiangyan City to fulfill the TESOL (Teaching English to speakers of other languages) degree’s practicum requirements. Bak had originally hoped to go somewhere more familiar for the experience.

“I’m ethnically South Korean and was born in Ecuador,” Bak explained. “I speak three languages: Spanish, English, and Korean . . . I wanted to go to a country where I spoke the language like South Korea. I’ve travelled most of my life. I’ve lived in Ecuador, the United States, Mexico, British Columbia, and even visited Hong Kong with practicum last summer.  I was tired of travelling and just wanted to settle down for awhile.”

Her faculty advisor, David Catterick, felt Bak should consider a different route.

“When I went to talk to David about doing an independent internship in a country I was familiar with, he told me ‘I want you to have a cross cultural experience.’”

After much consideration and prayer Bak decided to heed both her professor’s experience and the Lord’s leading.

“Finally I was like, ‘Okay Lord I’ll go where you want me to go.’”

This decision led Bak into months of preparation which included academic training and hands-on preparation for the classroom as well as fundraising efforts.   

“All my money came in, which is great.” Bak recalled.

Finances were not Bak’s only concern to overcome.

“I had a lot of fears” Bak said. “It made me really hesitant. The year before [while travelling] I got really sick and ended up in the hospital.”

 It was an experience Bak did not want to repeat.

Adding to health concerns, Bak was also concerned about fitting in with Chinese culture.

“I am a native English speaker but I don’t look it. I look Chinese, even though I’m ethnically Korean.”

Worried about whether these concerns would be advantages or disadvantages in the field,  Bak went to God about the matter.

 “I spent time laying these concerns before the Lord.”

Despite the concerns and challenges of a cross-cultural internship, Bak is grateful for her ability to have experienced the opportunities in China and the lessons which she learned throughout the process.

While in China, Bak was paired with a more experienced American teacher and able to undergo 45 hours of in-class teaching along with other duties such as adapting lesson plans, marking assignments, and introducing a new curriculum which will soon be implemented on a nationwide scale, an adventure which brought its own challenges.

“There were a lot of struggles with the pilot curriculum as there are almost always holes within a new program. Also learning to adjust the program so that it works for your students was challenging.” Bak recalled. “We taught primary teachers from the countryside but I mostly had Math teachers who were told by their headmasters they also needed to teach English to their students. They didn’t know anything about teaching English, so we worked on methodology and creative ways to communicate.”                                       

Over the summer, Bak worked hard to support her students the best she could.

“I know it sounds cliché, but I fell in love with my students,” Bak said adding that the relationships drove her to reach for a higher level of personal performance.  “You can’t be lazy; if you love your students you want the best for them.”

Bak is especially grateful for the personal lessons she learned on her trip. Her earlier fears of sickness and not fitting in were replaced with good health and acceptances from her students. Some continue to keep in contact with her.

“It was a trip of faithfulness,” she said., “If the Lord is there, and He has called you, and you are following Him there’s so much richness, there’s so much joy in what He has in store for you.”