Kisong Kim, Ed.M.
Kisong Kim Follows a Childhood Passion for Teaching from Korea to New York City
It’s not surprising that Doctoral Fellow Kisong Kim, Ed.M., ended up pursuing a doctorate in education at St. John’s when one considers the nickname she went by as a child growing up in Daegu, Republic of Korea: little teacher.
“Even before I started elementary school, I was always helping kids in my neighborhood learn to read and write,” she recalls. “Then in high school, I tutored my classmates in science and math and helped them with their writing assignments. Their understanding and grades improved, and that was a very rewarding experience for me.”
Schooling in Korea, Learning in English
Kisong’s secondary education at Christian high schools in both Korea and the United States was unique. She was among the first to graduate from Global Vision Christian School in Korea, where lessons were taught in English—albeit in broken English, according to Kisong.
“The school’s teachers and administrators wanted graduates to attend colleges in the United States,” says Kisong. “Unfortunately, they weren’t attuned to the linguistic and cultural differences between ‘American English’ and ‘Korean English’.”
Not feeling 100 percent confident in her “American English” skills, and on the advice of high school teachers who saw Kisong’s promise in the sciences, she began her higher education at SUNY Buffalo, where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in biology. While in school, she worked in a lab for two years, doing molecular and genetic testing of Hawaiian plants.
“I loved science, but I decided that I didn’t want to sit in a lab every day,” she admits. “I wanted to interact with human beings instead of cells. So I prayed to help me make the right decision for my future.”
Finding a Home in NYC and Support at St. John's
Those prayers—bolstered by her interest in New York City—led her to the University's Manhattan campus for her master’s in adolescent education. She said she fell in love with the city and St. John's, and quickly realized how supportive her St. John's professors and advisors were.
“Like many South Korean students, I had very little support from educators during my schooling,” she says, noting that the lack of support continued even in the U.S. during her undergraduate studies. “Once I got to St. John's, I realized what I had been missing.”
The Language of Learning
After completing her master’s degree, Kisong taught middle school in the New York City public school system, but she says she still thirsted for knowledge, so she decided to pursue a doctorate in instructional leadership at St. John’s Queens campus. She credits her mentor, Randall Clemens, Ph.D., with giving her the support and guidance she needs as she continues to learn about education, culture, and researching.
Now, Kisong studies and researches culturally responsive teaching—how teachers’ cultural sensitivities affect language learning experiences among students. She says she brings a unique perspective to her research, having been educated in both the American and South Korean systems and seeing the pros and cons in each.
“In Korea, education is more structured and students are shown a clearly mapped out path to their future based on their demonstrated performance,” she explains. “In the United States, that path is not as clear, but students have much more freedom to pursue different opportunities. I think both systems of education could be more sensitive to cultural differences among learners—that’s where my passion lies.”
Kisong concludes with words of advice for other St. John's students from different cultures: “Don’t shy away from your cultural differences,” she suggests. “And don’t be afraid to express your thoughts and feelings, even if you’re normally quiet or shy. St. John's has a lot to offer in terms of your studies and your life on campus, no matter what your background.”