▲ Professor Glenn Sundeen talking about his course
Through the realm of globalization, English has been influencing numerous cultures and individuals around the world. Our generation is now so comfortable with English that many of our own colloquial Korean phrases relate to it. As with any language, however, one must acquire how to use it as an effective tool to communicate and interact with the members of the international society. Advanced English Discussion, a general studies course at Korea University (KU), is the perfect course for students living in such a globalized environment.
Advanced English Discussion is held at the International Studies Hall at the KU Seoul campus. Professor Glenn Sundeen (Institute of Foreign Language Studies) has been teaching this course for 15 years since 2004—this means around 800 students have taken this course before. The course aims to familiarize students with a variety of issues through debates, discussions and presentations. During such a process, students are also able to develop confidence in using English and enhance their knowledge about critical thinking and vocabulary.
Professor Sundeen shares that the most unique aspect of his course is the wide range of topics that are to be studied. He mentions, “This makes the class more interesting. Students get a chance to discuss and debate on topics that are important and intriguing, and even get the opportunity to discuss them in a foreign language.” The discussion topics range from gender pay gaps and conspiracy theories, to Confucianism and discussion tactics. Students form pairs and present one of the topics during the whole class, while others participate in the discussion period and learn new vocabulary related to the topics.
Like all general studies courses, the absolute grading method is used. Most students also are “quite high-achieving,” says Professor Sundeen. “The standards and expectations of coursework and participation have therefore become quite high altogether.” The midterm and final examinations are given in the form of vocabulary tests, in which words are taken from each topic that the class has learned. Active participation is also very important for students who want to receive satisfactory grades.
Experiencing Turning Points
Professor Sundeen states that there have been some changes to the curriculum and atmosphere of the course over the past 15 years. “I noticed that the level of English has gone up considerably over the years, so I tried to add more critical thinking components to the class to increase the level of discussions.” Because the growing reliance on media exposes the weaknesses that come with it, Professor Sundeen believes that critical thinking skills are more important than ever for us to absorb the proper information.
One of the negative changes can be seen in the larger class sizes. Advanced English Discussion used to be a class of 12 to 15 students, but now consists of around 30, due to the university’s minimum regulation of 20 students. Professor Sundeen claims, “Students do not get to know each other that well anymore, and this makes the atmosphere less congenial.”
Advanced English Discussion has not only changed to affect the curriculum and class size, but also Professor Sundeen’s career as well. “I learn a lot from the students, their choice of topics, and their evolving opinions on those topics.” Such issues include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights and gay marriage, which has definitely changed the thoughts of students worldwide over the last decade. Professor Sundeen believes that Advanced English Discussion has kept him interested in current affairs and the media. “I think I would have possibly withdrawn from consuming the news long ago if I hadn’t felt the need to stay up to date for this course,” says Professor Sundeen. He further shares that he has also started to introduce such new topics to his regular Academic English classes over recent years.
Everlasting Friendships and Memories
The diversity of the class provides “Some really interesting dynamics in the class discussions, whether it be negative or positive.” He recalls a memorable tangent discussion from a few years ago that sparked the students’ conjoined hatred against team projects . “In spite of their displeasure, the discussion remained quite positive—almost therapeutic,” he shares. Professor Sundeen has also seen students with self-confidence issues beginning to express their opinions on issues they had never before dared to talk about in any language.
Professor Sundeen also recalls another episode that lasted in his memory for 15 years. “Back in 2004,” he says, “this class had a particularly special group of very high-achieving students, including one reasonably famous singer.” Professor Sundeen remembers that he has remained good friends with all of the students from that class, and still even has occasional reunions. The small class size of Advanced English Discussion allows for such close-knitted relationships to begin and last for even a lifetime.
Although every course at KU is valuable and memorable in its own way, Advanced English Discussion will be more rewarding through its tough discussions and will bring lasting relationships with classmates. As a piece of advice, Professor Sundeen tells students not to spend their precious time at university as a mere opportunity to achieve grades. “Use this time to learn and experience the world, both through your major and through other venues such as other general studies courses, student-led organizations, traveling, or part-time jobs.” On a final note, he explains that students should maintain mutual respect towards what others have to say during any form of discussion and compare others’ stances to their own experiences.