The Asia Foundation’s English Teacher Program in Korea in the 1950s

Ever wonder what it was like to teach English in Korea in the 1950s?  Frederic Dustin, an American residing in Korea for almost six decades, recalls what it was like teaching at Yonhi University (now part of Yonsei University):

“The school had returned from Busan a year or so before and there was so much damage. That first fall of ’55 was difficult. Many of the classrooms still had no windows and some were missing doors so it was terribly drafty.”

In addition to the lack of heat, there was also a dearth of education material.

“A suitable textbook was simply not available at that time. The Robert Lado series developed at the University of Michigan was mainly for Spanish speakers and certainly not for 30 or more students in a class!”

So, borrowing from the early missionaries, Dustin used a story-telling system and, instead of the Bible, utilized “a little book of Aesop’s Fables” as his text book. Pantomiming the actions of the main characters of the stories, 25-year-old Dustin was able to convey to his not-much-younger students the gist of the story. It was entertaining as well as very successful.

I am not sure if it happens now as much as it did in the past but I am sure many of us old-timers have experienced something similar:

“It was almost impossible to sit down for a cup of coffee or a meal, especially when alone, without having an elderly Korean gentleman suddenly materialize seemingly from out of nowhere saying ‘May I introduce myself? I’m Mr. XX, the Minister of so-and-so government office.’ Many of the elderly, if not educated abroad, had learned their English from U.S. or Commonwealth missionaries in Bible classes in Korea.”

You can read the rest of the story here (complete with pictures) – at the Korea Times.

I also wish to make a few corrections to some errors that I made.  First, the pictures are from Fred Dustin who generously granted me their use for this article.  Second, the first picture’s date should be 1959.  And third, Mr. Dustin attended University of Washington and not Washington State University.

  • belair716_

    Mr. Robert Neff,

    From your article at the KT:

    “The Dustin never left and now resides on Jeju Island where he founded the Gimnyeong Maze Park and, although he is no longer a teacher, continues to aid Korea’s education efforts through his philanthropy.”

    I think “the Gimnyeong Maze Park” is 제주 김녕 미로 공원.
    Here’s the link to the website:

    Quoted from the above website:

    “The Jeju Kimnyoung Maze is an expression of one man’s apreciation for his adopted home. Dr Frederic H Dutin, (born in Bellingham, WA in 1930) first came to Korea in 1952. He and Mrs. Dustin moved to Jeju from Seoul in 1971. He taught in the Tourism Department of jeju National University until his retirement in December 1994. The maze project was conceived of as a way to spend his golden years in his adopted home as well as serve as a legacy for the future.”

  • JoGaYoon

    Judging the Koreans by only few individual is not proper.
    As a korean, I hate that we are called ‘ugly Korean’.