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How One Welcoming Teacher Inspired An Immigrant Student To Succeed In America


T.K., a Korean immigrant, moved from his home country to Los Angeles in 1997. He didn’t speak English well, but he had taken English classes in Korea, which gave him enough skills to enter 10th grade in an American school upon arrival.

A Rude Awakening

T.K. always thought of himself as intelligent, but since English was his second language, he had a hard time at school. One day he was given a quiz on photosynthesis, which he learned about several years earlier. He knew all the answers, but this time the test was in English. He didn’t know the language well enough to express his knowledge on paper. T.K. refused to hand in a blank paper, though, so he answered every single question, in Korean.

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When he turned his paper into his teacher, Ms. Gallagher, she told him he wouldn’t get any credit for his quiz since he answered in Korean. Although T.K. wasn’t happy about the credit, at least he knew the material and answered the questions the only way he could.

A Surprising Effort

Ms. Gallagher could’ve written a zero at the top of T.K.’s quiz and filed it away. She knew he would not get credit no matter what, but she was curious if his answers to her quiz were right. She sought another teacher who had some knowledge of the Korean language and together they graded T.K.’s quiz. When she handed back the quizzes in class, she handed T.K. his quiz and announced to the class he earned the highest grade on the quiz!

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

T.K. couldn’t believe his biology teacher went through all the effort to understand the only answers he could give. Her welcoming and tolerant attitude encouraged him to learn English. He studied hard and not only graduated high school but went on to college and law school!

A Voice For Immigrants

Today, T.K. runs a site called “Ask a Korean”where he answers Korean related questions on his blog and shares Korean news on his Twitter. When he shared his story about Ms. Gallagher and how her small act of acceptance and kindness encouraged him to persevere and succeed. He wants to spread the word that most of us are immigrants and if we could show the same attitude as Ms. Gallagher to those who don’t speak English, it would go a long way in making them feel welcome and encouraging them to succeed.

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He wants the non-English-speaking immigrants to realize just because they don’t speak the language of their new country, yet, their intelligence is still there. With a little understanding from those who speak the language, we could all work together to make everyone feel welcome in their new home.

Here are some tweets from T.K., in his own words.

 

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