Unable to meet with their students in their usual classrooms this semester, Mason Korea faculty came up with new ways to make the best of this new situation. Students in Professor Teresa Michals’ history of children’s literature class read classic English-language stories for children, but instead of writing about these books alone, they also explored Korea’s wealth of neighborhood parks. Students in her class took photos and reflected on what these green urban spaces imply about how Korean city planners see childhood today. Students reflected too on their own memories of where and how they played as children.
Anglo-American children’s literature traditionally links happy, healthy childhood with rural and suburban spaces. For instance, in the Winnie-the-Pooh books, one little boy has an entire100 Acre Wood to himself. The backyards of suburban America echo this ideal. But Korea is one of the most densely urbanized countries in the world. Comparing this literary tradition to the urban landscape around them, students were able to see familiar spaces with new eyes.
Jimin Jeon, a sophomore majoring in Global Affairs, pointed out the importance of location: “Most Korean playgrounds are located near apartment buildings. Thanks to this accessibility, local children can meet new friends they have not met at school. They share the play equipment and play together. By doing so, children can improve their sociability.”
Francesa Griego, a sophomore accounting major, saw Korea’s blend of the old and the very new in a playground feature that looks like a shiny futuristic giant apple: “The apple is shaped in an abstract manner heavily influenced by modern planners. The way that the builders balanced the urban and rural characteristics in this infrastructure shows Korea’s characteristics. . . . It also has a rock path leading to it, and not just a simple sidewalk [in an attempt to balance] tradition and matching the modern side of society.”
Hyunjin Yun, another sophomore Global Affairs major, noted that these urban playgrounds are “not only well-organized, but also nature-friendly . . . combining the beauty and health of nature and the safety of modern culture.”
Some students were surprised by the option of writing about urban playgrounds for an English class, but glad they chose to give it a try. “I was surprised by this assignment. . . it gave me a broad insight into childhood things despite the fact that the playground was originally a trivial thing to me,” Yun said.
Jeon similarly enjoyed taking on a new kind of assignment that helped her connect the subject of the class to her own experiences: “I spent my whole childhood in Korea, so it was good to be able to recall my childhood memory related to the playground. So, this assignment gave me nostalgia for my childhood.”
Griego remarked, “I learned that one can really know a country's or city's personality by looking at its infrastructure. If you look at the way the playgrounds and parks are designed, it reflects the personality of those inhabiting that area.”
Despite the logistical challenges of this year’s pandemic, these students found a welcoming campus culture along with faculty interested in their ideas. “Mason Korea is one of the most welcoming educational facilities that I have ever been at. As a military child who was required to travel and attend different schools, the most important aspect to me was whether or not the school had a welcoming atmosphere. Mason Korea does an excellent job of letting their students feel at home and giving them the necessary resources to thrive,” Griego said.
June 29, 2020