When Kay Moon’s (M.A. ’06) father journeyed to Japan from Korea in the 1930s and became a middleweight boxing champion three years after the end of the Japanese occupation in Korea, he “served as a symbol of inspiration, hope, and pride for all the Korean diaspora” during a time of racism, prejudice, and cultural disparity.
“My father was fighting for equality and acceptance along with many others,” explains Moon. “Almost the same time, Joe Louis was fighting for equality and hope for Black Americans.”
Currently an ordained member of Shinnyo Esoteric Buddhism, Moon is a K-6 teacher at the International School of the Sacred Heart in Japan. She is often reminded of her father’s struggle as she cultivates compassion and inclusion and the lessons she learned at Teachers College within her diverse classroom of students from more than 50 countries.
And as the world grapples with larger questions about social justice and equality, Moon shares that now more than ever, she faces challenges as an educator that come with cross-cultural exchange.
“It is evident that we are still fighting for acceptance, equality, and kindness in this world,” she says. “If my classroom can be a safe space for students growing up amidst similar challenges today, I know I’m doing my job.”
She traveled to New York to pursue her Elementary Education degree at Teachers College about 20 years ago. “Teachers College was my dream school. I still remember how special it was to open that acceptance letter,” she shares. Studying the fundamentals of literacy and special education were just a few of her favorite classroom memories. “TC taught me how to become an inclusive, passionate educator and leader while bringing out the best in each child.”
That same drive for inclusion compelled Moon to write and illustrate her children’s picture book, Mogo-chan's International School Chingoos from A to Z — inspired by her classroom experiences and international friendships. The book aims to amplify racial, cultural, and sexual diversity through vibrant imagery and text while teaching little ones their ABCs.
“As a student, I had friends from Australia, Italy, Thailand—all over the world. I want my students to see how special international friendships are through this book,” she says, noting that “Chingoo” means “friend” in Korean.
The pages, illuminated with colorful illustrations, represent each letter of the alphabet while teaching children about different countries, like “I” for India and “U” for Ukraine. Moon shares that she drafted the book amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, during which she felt the world needed “a little more happiness.”
“I thought, what if there was a new way to teach children something like the alphabet, with a greater message woven into it.”
Since its publication, the book has touched the hearts of parents and children. “I frequently hear from parents that they feel a piece of their culture is represented through this book. A mother in New York City shared with me that she thought it was important that the book highlights the significance of Indian naming and culture, which many children’s books lack."
The impact of Moon’s book has extended beyond her classroom. Her former high school volleyball coach, now the principal of preschool at Bahrain Bayan School, has incorporated her book as a mentor text to celebrate “Building International Understanding,” which focuses on what all children around the world need: love, food, a safe home, and the opportunity to learn.
Yet Moon adds there is still work to be done. She hopes to publish more books that will serve as a continuation of Mogo-chan's International School Chingoos From A to Z, perhaps exploring texts for social justice, manners, and maybe even parenting. “This is only the beginning. There is so much you can do through simple storytelling,” she shares.
And when she’s not in the classroom, Moon serves as the Alumni Experience Committee Co-Chair on TC’s Alumni Council. “My work in the classroom is woven with my memories from Teachers College. I’m forever grateful to be an ambassador for a community rooted in impact.”
The alum shares that she hopes to transition into a role as a consultant of education and open her own Buddhist International School before she retires.
“Upon graduating from Teachers College in my late thirties, I wrote a note to myself sharing that my ultimate goal would be to open my Buddhist international school one day to teach children practical ways to make peace in their hearts, minds, and world. Maybe that’s next.”
인생의 가장 큰 선물은 우정이고, 나는 그것을 받았다. The greatest gift of life is friendship, and I have received it.