This past May, Convocation student speaker Woo-Jung Amber Kim saluted her fellow graduates for their “incredible adaptability” in a final semester upended by a global pandemic.

That same quality has helped Kim herself navigate a career path that has oscillated between classroom teaching and explorations of diverse cultures — at times reflecting her own evolving interests, and, at others, responding to a rapidly changing world.

Kim’s mother and aunt are educators, and she planned from early on not only to go into teaching, but also to learn her craft at Teachers College. She recalls visiting New York as a teen, and “walking past the TC campus and thinking I’d love to go here.” At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she earned an undergraduate degree in biology and a master’s in Secondary Education & Science, a visiting lecture on hip hop pedagogy by TC’s Christopher Emdin, Associate Professor of Science Education, essentially sealed the deal.

Graduates Gallery 2020

Meet some more of the amazing students who earned degrees from Teachers College this year.

“I was on the edge of my seat the entire workshop, thinking ‘Wow, TC must be very progressive to let him do this kind of research,’” says Kim. “TC was always in the back of my mind, but after meeting and hearing Chris Emdin, I knew I wanted to attend an institution that would give him that kind of platform.”

And so she did — but not quite as she’d originally envisioned. Kim was born in Hawaii and raised in California and South Korea. She attended an international high school in Seoul and subsequently spent a gap year there as a substitute teacher.

“It got me thinking about languages and how they affect the different ways people learn,” she says.

Thus when Kim arrived at TC in 2018, it was as a student in the International Educational Development program in the College’s Department of International & Transcultural Studies. There she met Carol Benson, Associate Professor of International & Comparative Education, who has conducted research on indigenous language learning in Cambodia’s northern provinces.

TC was always in the back of my mind, but after meeting and hearing Chris Emdin, I knew I wanted to attend an institution that would give him that kind of platform.

—Woo-Jung Amber Kim

“She has a foot in both worlds and does a great job of bridging teaching and research,” Kim says of Benson.  

By the end of her first year Kim herself was bridging both worlds through a stateside CARE Cambodia internship that culminated in a six-week, research-focused visit to Cambodia. After observing and collecting data on the training of indigenous teachers, she decided “to learn more how nongovernment organizations can navigate the different levels of government to bring about change.” The result was her master’s thesis, titled "Perspectives of Multilingual Education Teachers on the Sustainability of Multilingual Education Programs in Cambodia." 

Kim might well have chosen to continue exploring the worlds of international development and education after graduating in May, but, as she told her fellow graduates in remarks delivered from her home in South Korea, “our moment for celebration has been redefined by the global crisis.” Instead, she’s taken a position as a science instructor at a private international school in California.

“I realized that I’d never really had an opportunity to have my own classroom,” she says. “Even though I had worked as a substitute, I thought maybe I should backtrack to see what it is like to plant my feet in one classroom and develop lesson plans and grade papers on a daily basis.”

Still, it seems likely, knowing Kim’s interests, that the road may call again. In her Convocations speech, she repeatedly emphasized that experiences such as her own field work in Cambodia appear all the richer in hindsight: “Through the crisis, our memories and accomplishments of our time at TC have been redefined for the better.”