Kim stepped up to a new challenge when she entered Ewha at the age of 40 to study English Education, overcoming the hardship of visual impairment. She is now an alumna of Ewha and a middle school English teacher, loved by her students and colleagues. Photo provided by Kim Tae-yeon.
Kim Tae-yeon was an ordinary, happy 20-year-old university student until her vision suddenly disintegrated, forcing her to drop out of school a year later. Her vision was damaged to the extent where the world looked like a mosaic, with distorted shapes. Nineteen years had passed before she entered the Department of English Education at Ewha in 2012. She is now the oldest graduate of the class of 2015, becoming a much-loved English teacher.
“Although I majored in veterinary medicine in my previous school, I thought that I would like to be a teacher if I could choose another career path,” Kim said. “When my vision failed, persisting in veterinary medicine was not an option anymore. I started to study English because it is a subject that can be learned just as effectively through auditory means as visual ones.”
When Kim first dropped out of school, she did not expect to take a 19 year break. Although doctors told her that she could go completely blind eventually, she stayed stubbornly optimistic.
“I somehow firmly believed that I would recover and soon be back in school,” Kim said with a smile. “Maybe my optimism kept me from going completely blind.”
However, in reality, she had to stay away from school longer than she had expected. For the first three years, she spent most of her time trying out different folk remedies for her eyes. During this period she spent a lot of time with her school friends. Things began to change when her friends, one by one, graduated university and got jobs. Then, at the age of twenty-four, she got a job as an assistant teacher at Yoon’s English School, a well-known English kindergarten.
“Through the four years of working there, I discovered that I enjoy teaching and interacting with children,” Kim said.
Kim’s experience as an assistant teacher sowed seed for the later stage of her life at Ewha. The initial idea of applying for school in her late 30s sprang up when she discovered that the government had changed the law so that the visually impaired could also attend universities. Before the enactment of this law in 1996, visually impaired students could only continue their studies after signing a contract, stating that they would not hold the school responsible for any accidents that might occur on campus due to their physical condition. Now, they can attend school while benefiting from various support programs.
“Ewha is especially well-equipped with effective support programs for students with disabilities,” Kim said. “I didn’t really know at the time when I applied, but after spending four years at the school I definitely think that Ewha is one of the best.”
Kim enjoyed her lessons and studied hard. She also made friends; although there was a 20-year gap between her and most of her classmates, their conversation usually converged on topics such as grades and getting a job, linking them with similar interests. The difficulty arising from her visual impairment was also eased by the help from her friends and school’s supporters, as well as her fierce determination not to fall behind.
“What others took five minutes to learn through visual means took me an hour through auditory ones,” Kim said. “I worked twice as hard as an average student to make up for the gap in time efficiency.”
Such hardworking disposition coupled with her genuine enjoyment of learning led Kim to graduate in four years with satisfying grades. A month later, she started teaching English at a middle school, and is still working there now.
While immensely enjoying her work as a teacher, she also toys with alternative plans for her future.
“I could try out for a high school English teacher, or go to a graduate school to study Psychology, which was my double major at Ewha,” Kim said. “Thanks to the amazing speed at which the contemporary medical science is developing, I really do believe that I can regain my vision someday. I might try something new once that happens.”
As of now, Kim is happy with the path that she has taken. Even though the path of an English teacher is a compromise between the reality of her impaired vision and her original dream, it turned out to be something genuinely meaningful in her life.