Alison Hansel, Pierce School Math Specialist, traveled to Seoul to study Korean!

Earlier this month BEF board members were treated to a presentation by Alison Hansel about her
experience of traveling to Seoul, Korea to study the Korean language with help from a BEF grant. Ms.
Hansel, a math specialist at the Pierce School in Brookline, began studying Korean during the pandemic
lockdown. Like many (if not all) educators, Ms. Hansel felt burnt out and exhausted after going through
the subsequent remote and hybrid teaching challenges. She was looking for a means to reconnect with
her work and renew her motivation, so she applied for a Teacher’s Grant.

Ms. Hansel shared with the Board how the experience was both energizing and fulfilling, but also allowed her to
remember what it felt like to be a student. She found this particularly helpful in gaining experiential insight
into the challenges faced by Brookline’s many English language learners as they attempt to learn in an
unfamiliar cultural environment where they often don’t speak the language at all. She introduced a
few of the ELL students she has had the opportunity to work with, and shared how her deeper
understanding of what it feels like to struggle with a language barrier has opened new ways of helping
these students and continues to inform her teaching moving forward.

She also shared what she learned in Korea, what her classes were like, and how the Korean
alphabet was created phonetically as a means to make literacy easily accessible for all. She showed
photos of where she had been, which highlighted the beauty of the Korean landscape as well as the
contrast between older and newer areas of Seoul, a city that has experienced massive expansion and
growth in a very short time.

The BEF loves this example of a Teacher’s Grant, because it really illustrates what these grants are all about –
professional development and renewal. Ms. Hansel is not a Korean language teacher or an ELL
specialist; she did not pursue learning Korean because she had cause to use it in class. Her experience
in Korea nonetheless had a powerful impact on her teaching, and therefore on her students, and served
the equally important purpose of refreshing the motivation and inspiration all teachers draw upon in doing
this difficult work that they love.