Twenty-five teachers from across the country were selected to attend a teacher research trip in Korea this past summer and two of them happen to be from the same district: Centennial.

Social studies teachers Julie Cross and Nori Heino were chosen to be World History Digital Education (WHDE) Fellows. The highlight of the fellowship was a 10-day visit in July to the Republic of Korea, which focused on research of Korean history and culture. The trip emphasized a deeper understanding of the rich history of the Korean peninsula, including its simultaneous economic growth and democratization.

“The purpose of the trip was to give Social Studies teachers a firsthand, experiential learning opportunity to learn about Korea, past and present,” Cross said. “The foundations would like us to educate our students and colleagues about Korea and its amazing history and ability to recover from the devastation of the Korean War.” (Heino was unable to be reached for the story, as she is currently abroad in the Dominican Republic on a two-year leave from Centennial.)

This is not the first time the 20-year Centennial veteran teacher has ventured to another country to bring back a wealth of knowledge to share with her co-workers and students. The Quad Community Press wrote 

an article about Cross' trip to Germany in July 2017 on a fellowship offered by the Transatlantic Outreach Program.

In order to be considered for the trip to Korea, Cross and Heino had to fill out a lengthy application. Before leaving for Korea, teachers were required to watch webinar lectures, complete assignments and transcribe an interview of a Korean War veteran. After returning, teachers had to commit to various presentations to share their experience and knowledge about Korea with others.

“The main message is that social studies teachers are not really teaching the Korean War correctly. They are kind of skipping from the Soviet takeover after World War II to the Korean War, without teaching the background of Korea,” Cross explained. “They were occupied by the Japanese since 1910 and there was no reason for them to be divided between the U.S and the Soviet Union. The war devastated South Korea and they became an aid country ... They are the only aid country that has gone from one of the poorest nations in the world to 11th in our economy.”

Cross added, “They have also come out of a military government into one of democracy. That democracy was created by the people in a peaceful revolution. Korea is thriving, they came out of ashes, they are doing really well, they have a strong economy and a vibrant democracy. They are moving into position to be the seventh largest economy in the world by 2025.”

During the trip, fellows explored the history and culture of Korea by visiting key historical sites and museums, and conducting conversations with scholars. Among the highlights of the trip was a visit to the Demilitarization Zone (DMZ) to see the 60-year-old border that has divided the Korean peninsula. 

“I think the most powerful day was the one that we spent at the DMZ. Gazing out across the line into North Korea felt surreal,” Cross recalled.

Fellows visited Dorasan Station, the northernmost train station in South Korea, as well as the Third Tunnel of Aggression, which was used during the Korean War. Additionally, fellows toured Freedom Village, Daeseong-dong, located close to the border. The itinerary also included exploration of Gyeongbokgung Palace, POSCO Steel Headquarters in Pohang, the National Museum and a guided tour of the grounds of the Blue House (Cheong Wa Dae), the equivalent to the White House in the U.S. During the trip, fellows even got to spend the night in the Bulguksa Temple.

“Korea is completely efficient, clean, very modern in its sustainability; there is not a spec of trash anywhere. They don't even have trash cans, because everybody is responsible for the trash,” Cross said. “It is that sense of community, a respect for education and hard work, that has made Korea so modern and so successful.”

Cross presented to teachers in August through the Minnesota Council for the Social Studies and says she will address her colleagues at Centennial later this fall. The trip will also alter the way she teaches both U.S. History and World History.

“I plan to weave in Korean history all throughout World History because we found out that it is like the best-kept secret. We found out they were the first to invent the metal printing press, but all social studies teachers attribute it to Gutenberg in Germany,” she said. “In U.S. History, I will teach the background to the Korean War more thoroughly and the unjustness of Korea being divided ... I think I can do a much better job of presenting global current events.”


Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or  

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