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Teaching and being taught

Kristine Book in January at the Korean demilitarized zone. Behind Book, you can see the guards from North Korea and the blue United Nations building.
Kristine Book in January at the Korean demilitarized zone. Behind Book, you can see the guards from North Korea and the blue United Nations building.

SEOUL – Kristine Book got off the plane at 6 a.m.

By 3 p.m., she was facing down five first- and second-graders in one of South Korea’s many after-school academies.

“I was definitely scared,” the 27-year-old Dixon resident said. “I had no idea what I was going to do and no idea how they were going to respond to me.”

But Book got her footing quickly, moving into her tiny one-room, one-bathroom apartment, called an office-tel.

“In one room, they have everything,” she said. “There’s a small kitchenette with a sink, two stove burners, some cabinets and then a washing machine underneath. Then there’s a bed and a desk and everything.

“The bathroom has a sink and a toilet, but there’s no separate shower stall like traditional American bathrooms. Instead, over the sink, there’s a shower head, so when I need to turn on the shower, I turn on the sink and pull a little lever out.”

Book hadn’t lived abroad before this, but after 3 years in retail as a manager at Walgreens, she was ready for a change.

She went back to school to pursue a Master of Arts in teaching at National Louis University in Lisle.

She had graduated from Amboy High School in 2002 and from North Central College in Naperville with a Bachelor of Arts in organizational communication.

She will have a year of school remaining when she gets home in December.

Her parents, Jim and Karla Book, 58 and 56, live south of Dixon. She also has two younger brothers, Aaron and Mike, 23 and 25.

In the meantime, she’s getting some practical experience, teaching six classes a day, Monday through Friday.

The younger kids, first- through third-graders, learn grammar, speaking and drama. The older kids, up through sixth-graders, are moving onto formulating their own conversations and arguments with a debate class.

These are the kind of classes Book wants to teach, but to a slightly older group. She’s thinking middle school.

But this experience has taught her one thing.

“So many opportunities have been opened to me that I’m considering a lot of different things right now,” she said. “I am so excited. That’s one of the reasons I’m so glad I came here, a lot of perspective. I didn’t know what was out there.”

But Book had been hesitant at first about coming to South Korea.

Her great-aunt, Pat Wilson, who has lived in South Korea for 5 years through the Christian Science Church, had suggested coming.

And now, Book is thrilled that she took the plunge, advocating for everyone to try it once.

The perspective hasn’t just been career-oriented.

Book has traveled throughout South Korea, up to the 38th parallel that separates North and South Korea, down to Jeju, an island known as the “Hawaii of Korea.”

But Seoul is where she’s really been digging in, discovering all sorts of neighborhoods and districts.

“I’ve explored almost every part of Seoul,” she said. “I love the university districts here, .... They have tons of little stores, little boutiques, and a lot of spots for going out at night and dancing.”

Some of those spots are transient, popping up in squares and parks as bands set up and crowds gather.

She’s also had to cope with not speaking the language, a daily challenge but one that her Korean friends have helped with.

One time she was at a restaurant with another native English speaker and couldn’t communicate with the server. But one call to a friend later, and their orders were being translated over the phone.

That’s why she suggests having Korean and foreign friends. Koreans can show her around and teach her new things, and foreigners can relate to what she’s going through.

For more information

Go to Kristine Book’s blog at for more stories and photos from her time in South Korea.

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