Sam Yook Korean SDA Language School Celebrates 40 Years
It was registration day at the first Seventh-day Adventist English language school in Korea. Four student missionaries — Doug Havens, Dave Whitaker, Janene Conley and Nancy Follett — had worked hard in the three weeks prior to Sept. 18 to advertise the new school. (All but Whitaker are currently members in the Pacific Union; Whitaker just moved away last year.) They handed out flyers to students on college and university campuses, business people at office buildings, and people on the street. They glued posters to fences and light posts. Announcements and advertisements appeared in newspapers. There was a lot of excitement and expectation as the four teachers, the secretary and the director arrived early at the school opening morning, eager to meet the registrants who would become their students.
The SDA English School in Korea was the dream of Dean Hubbard, a missionary working for the Korean Union in Seoul. He had spent hours consulting, planning, arranging finances, finding a location, visiting the SDA English Schools in Japan, requesting teachers, praying, working and hoping. Registration day was the culmination of all these activities. Everything was in place except for the students.
The staff waited through the morning. No students came. They waited through the lunch hour. No students came. Conversation through the long hours focused on keeping up everyone's hope, "Students will come. You'll see. They'll come. We just have to be patient a little longer. We did hand out hundreds of flyers. Remember this is an evangelistic effort dedicated to God. Students will come." The staff continued to wait through the afternoon. No students. Finally, about 4 p.m., a student walked through the door and registered. About 10 minutes later, a few more came to register. And then a few more came, and a few more. Then floods of people were crowding in trying to sign up for English classes. Doubt turned into amazement as the number of registrants reached 100, then 200, then 300 and finally peaking at 700 when the last was registered late in the evening.
Now the concern shifted in a different direction. How were four teachers going to teach 700 students? It was not possible. There must be more teachers. In desperation, Hubbard turned to native English speakers in the missionary community at the union compound. The daughter of the chaplain at the serviceman's center, Jackie Zytkoskee, was willing. Thelma Pangborn, the aunt of one of the missionaries, was available. Quick calls were made to Japan and to the U.S. Yes, Tana Christiansen could come from Florida. Dennis Belsh could be spared from one of the schools in Japan. The needs were met, and every student had a teacher.
Forty years later, the director and his associates decided to include as many as possible of the first group of teachers at the anniversary celebration. Five responded and attended the activities. On Sept. 18, 2009 - 40 years to the day after the facility opened — the Sam Yook Language School (formerly the SDA English Center) celebrated its anniversary. The sanctuary of the school was overflowing with former and current teachers, directors, students and so many others. Bouquets, streamers, banners and people were everywhere. The program was rich with music, awards and applause. Guest speakers included Maurice Bascom, the second director of the school; Whitaker, one of the first teachers; Yonglin Moon, a former student who was the Korean Minister of Education at that time and is now a professor at Seoul National University; and Myeongkwan Hong, the president of Korean Union College.
The SDA English Center started out in a rented space on the seventh floor of Dae Wong Corner. Today, the school has its own three-story building of classrooms and labs adjacent to a second building that houses the administrative offices and the sanctuary of the school. The school has continued to be blessed with good enrollment. There are currently 50,000 students enrolled in 63 Sam Yook Language Schools located throughout South Korea. The four millionth student ever to enroll in an SDA language school enrolled just before the anniversary celebration. Teachers continue to come from the United States, but many come from other countries, as well. The plan continues that was established at the beginning of the school — each teacher leads a Bible class along with English classes. Over the 40-year history of the SDA English Language Schools in Korea, 13,000 people have been baptized into the Adventist church as a result of the ministry.
During the celebration, the vision for the future was unveiled, including a new motto: "Embrace the World." Plans continue for more schools in additional cities throughout the country. Curriculum will expand to other subjects. Already there is a pilot after-school math program in place. And the current director, Dr. Siyoung Kim, is working on using technology to add online classes to the school's program.