BMS Librarian Travels to South Korea
Posted On:
Friday, September 08, 2017
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As a young child, Baird Middle School Librarian, Jordan Funke, became fascinated by the culture and history of Japan.  This fascination continued into adulthood, inspiring her to enroll in a graduate course to learn about Japan’s Asian neighbor to the west, Korea. The course ignited a journey to learn more about this “cool country.”  She found herself watching Korean dramas, listening to Korean pop music, enjoying Korean food, and even learning the language.

This spring, when presented with the opportunity to join fifteen other middle school and high school educators from across the country on a two week summer adventure to visit South Korea, she knew it was a trip that would be an experience of a lifetime and immediately signed up.

Funke explained that the trip was a study tour run by the Indiana University and sponsored by the National Consortium for Teaching About Asia program and largely funded by the Freeman Foundation. Leading the group were two Korean-American women who are a professor of Korean Studies at the University of Indiana and a professor of medicine at the University of Chicago.

“Most of what people hear on the news now is about the tension with North Korea,” said Funke.  “South Korea is a completely different kind of place and most people don’t really know a lot about it. South Koreans have been living with the threats from the north for years and are focused on using diplomacy to reunite the country. When we were over there it wasn’t headline news. The news we get about Korea is so sensationalized and designed to induce fear, but the situation is much more complex.”

All who know Funke will agree that she has a never ending passion for sharing her love of reading and technology.  It was no surprise, therefore, when speaking of her trip she immediately shared, “South Korea is very high tech, much like Japan. It has the fastest Internet in the world and also has the highest percentage of it’s population connected to the Internet. The toilets are even high tech- it’s high tech everything!”

Funke went on to share several highlights from her trip including meeting people associated with Project 11,  an organization that helps refugees from North Korea adapt to South Korean life. Funke explained that Project 11 partners refugees with South Koreans who have similar skills/interests to assist in adjusting to their new country.  She had the opportunity to observe an orchestra rehearsal that was comprised of South Korean professional musicians who volunteer their time to mentor North Korean refugees who are learning to play an instrument.

“Wow, the orchestra was great, but the opportunity to talk to them afterwards was such a learning experience for me,” said Funke.  “All of the information I had about refugees prior to this trip was about people who were escaping from prison camps or who had really, really horrible lives. But we spoke with a defector who was a doctor: he was from the educated class, he had a comfortable life and he risked his life, his wife’s life, his child’s life, to flee. It was that important to him.”

“As an American you’re like- he had an okay life, so why was he so desperate to leave?  He explained some of the reasons why and what struck me was that he couldn’t just sit back and watch anymore. That was powerful for me to hear.”

Funke also had the opportunity to visit a UNESCO (United Nations, Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) funded project. Most are familiar with UNESCO World Heritage sites that protect important historical buildings by funding restoration, but UNESCO will also certify intangible cultural items such as a recipe, a song, or a craft.  

Funke visited the National Intangible Heritage Center in Jeonju, where she was introduced to Intangible Asset 118.  “Her certified skill is painting the very intricate designs that go behind the giant Buddhist statues in temples.  The Korean government pays her to maintain her art, pass it on to other people and spread the word about Korean crafts. She taught us how to paint a lotus flower on a mulberry paper fan.”

“Korea is really proud of it’s heritage,”continued Funke.  “Korea has a very long history. I saw things that were 1,500 years old and still intact - it really blew my mind.   That sense of time is really hard to comprehend because everything in our country is so new by comparison.  It was very cool to see how they protect and promote their heritage with traditional architecture inspired in modern buildings. The modern and historical definitely co-exist in a lot of areas.”

After visiting Seoul, South Korea’s capital, Funke was impressed with the urban design and planning of one of the most densely populated cities in the world. “Appearance is very important, reputation is very important. They have done a lot of work to improve and beautify things. There was this old highway overpass that was not being used anymore so they turned it into a pedestrian walkway with greenery and little shopping stores, art exhibits and live music venues. It’s a connection between the two sides of the city. It’s called Seoullo 7017 and just opened this year.”

“They are trying really hard to make Seoul people-friendly,” added Funke.  “The building codes specifically mandate the inclusion of green space and public art- they have to be built into any new building plans.”

With a smile, Funke also shared, “One more highlight I have to mention is the food - the food was terrific! I ate a lot of bibimbap, which is a rice bowl with vegetables and an egg on top. Korean food, in general, is amazing!”

The group also visited numerous museums, had lunch with a congresswoman, stayed overnight in a Buddhist temple, hiked a famous mountain, visited the demilitarized zone on the border of North Korea, toured a traditional village in traditional clothing, and spoke with administrators and students at various schools.

Because the trip was subsidized, one of the expectations is that Funke share information about Korea with others by creating a curriculum project. “I will be creating some short videos and paragraphs that are snapshots of different aspects of  modern culture relevant to middle school curriculum and interests. There isn’t much out there for middle school age right now and interest is growing because of K-Pop. Koreans are becoming tastemakers in the world and I want to take advantage of that to teach history and culture.”  

At Baird Middle School she will be presenting her journey during geography classes when they study East Asia in the spring. Funke also started an after school Japanese and Korean Culture Club last spring that will be expanded this year.  If you are interested in learning more about Funke’s experience you can contact her by emailing her at

When asked what she hoped most to achieve by sharing her visit to South Korea with other, Funke took a minute to think and replied, “What I want people to know the most is that South Korea is it’s own country. It’s not scary.  It’s incredibly safe and it has a rich culture with a 2,500 year history. I also hope I can reduce misconceptions and bias against Koreans. Their culture and people are more than all the negative things we hear on the news about North Korea.”

Below is a slide presentation of the many photographs Funke took during her stay in South Korea.

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