March 28, 2013Vol. 43, Issue 1

Korean Teachers Become Part of the "Chico Family"

Charles Zartman, back, with educators from South Korea.

Charles Zartman, back, with educators from South Korea.

Speaking English is indispensable to many South Koreans, and is a major part of the public and private school systems. Advertisements for English programs are practically on every street corner in South Korea. Yet in Chungcheongbuk Province, only one program is famous, and it’s not even known as a program.

It’s called “The Chico Family.”

Since 1988, approximately 1,000 teachers from the mountainous center of South Korea have traveled to Chico for one month to immerse themselves in American language and culture. This January, 36 teachers were hosted on campus and in the community for the 25th anniversary of the program.

“The teachers in the first year of the program called it the Chico Family program rather than the initial name, Korean English Teacher Summer Institute, because the teachers felt the staff treated them as family,” said School of Education Professor Charles Zartman, Center for Bilingual and Multicultural Studies director. “We are very pleased to have such a special relationship with the people of Chungcheongbuk Province.”

While the teachers spend weekday mornings in classes and most afternoons with English tutors, evenings and weekends are spent with staff and host families. Many of the local residents host Korean teachers year after year, and accompany them to concerts, bowling nights and trips to places like Mount Lassen, Burney Falls, Sacramento, and San Francisco. “Our families are very involved with the teachers, and that makes a big difference in the quality of our program,” Zartman said. He pointed out that many programs catering to foreign students lack interactions with local citizens, depriving students of opportunities to learn firsthand about U.S. culture. 

Close connections are not lacking with CSU, Chico’s program with South Korea. In 2007, Zartman, some colleagues, and several Chico host families were invited to Korea as guests of the governor of Chungcheongbuk Province. Zartman said they were “treated royally” as Korean officials expressed their gratitude for the high quality and caring nature of the Chico program. “Every important official in the province was there to greet us. They did everything possible to make us feel very special.”

"We have been able to build a very strong and enduring relationship with our Korean friends from the Chungcheongbuk Province. This program has become what the name suggests, a family."

Over time the bond has only grown. “In Korea, as in any country, professional matters are conducted based on relationships being established,” Zartman said. “I am pleased to say we have been able to build a very strong and enduring relationship with our Korean friends from the Chungcheongbuk Province. As the teachers in the first group expressed, this program has become what the name suggests, a family.”

The program began when Korean officials were looking to find a quality English program, and were directed to the CSU, Chico Center for Bilingual/Multicultural Studies by a bilingual professional working at the California Department of Education in Sacramento. Professor Jesús Cortez, then director of the center, and Zartman initiated the program with Zartman serving as curriculum director for the first nine years. Zartman then became program director, and also now heads the Center for Bilingual/Multicultural Studies.

The professional development program for teachers has become so successful that, in addition to English teachers and elementary school teachers charged with teaching English, it now attracts many secondary school teachers who teach subjects other than English, Zartman said.

In 1990, the program was named the outstanding professional development program in education for all of the Republic of Korea. 

Konkuk University, which has a campus in Chungcheongbuk Province, began a similar English training program at CSU, Chico in 2010. School officials became aware of the popularity of the teacher program in the province and wanted to replicate it for their university students. 

When the 36 Korean teachers left the CSU, Chico campus Feb. 1, 28 Konkuk University students arrived the same day for their one-month program.

The program initially was held in the summer, but was moved two years ago to January, to accommodate the extended break between academic years in Korea. The Korean academic calendar runs from mid-March through the end of December.

To commemorate the anniversary visit, a resolution from the city of Chico was presented to the visitors on Jan. 7, their first full day in Chico. The resolution stated the program “has served to bring friendship, goodwill and mutual understanding between the people of Chico and those visiting here from the Chungcheongbuk Province.”

—Joe Wills, Public Affairs and Publications