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March 1996 - Issue No. #22 (p. 17)

Writing About Global Issues

by Susan Niemeyer

Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea

Global issues can provide stimulating content for writing courses. Last semester, I taught an advanced writing class for juniors majoring in English literature at Yonsei University. During the semester, students composed four 2-3 page essays and one 10 page research paper.

To give the students freedom in developing their short essays, but at the same time create a unifying content, I decided to let the students suggest and vote on topics that would interest them. Of the 30 topics proposed, the final four selections were all related to global issues: sex in advertising, the portrayal of women in movies, foreign workers in Korea, and the environment. The students formed teams to research and develop a collection of eight to twelve sources for each topic. In class, the students read and commented on each others' essays.

The students approached these topics from many different angles. The first two topics (sex in advertising and women in movies) led many to discuss the stereotypical portrayals of women found in the mass media. The definition of feminism was brought into question as some debated whether the movie Thelma and Louise could truly be considered a "feminist" film. The general consensus was a thumbs-down. For the final essay (on the environment), most students focused on the causes and potential solutions to the omnipresent pollution affecting Seoul and the Korean peninsula.

The topic of foreign workers in Korea was particularly thought-provoking. The students analyzed the reasons why laborers are recruited from underdeveloped countries, studied the problems these workers face, and proposed reforms both in the public and private sectors. Many students took a critical stance regarding the Korean government's Industrial Trainee Program, which seems to compound the problems foreign workers face rather than alleviate them. In the class discussion, I shared my own observations about the situation of illegal workers in the United States, having served as a volunteer ESL tutor to Mexican immigrants in Chicago.

For the final research paper, the students chose their subjects individually. Several continued to focus on social, environmental and political issues including the health care of women in Africa, the relationship between international environmental agreements, trade, and economic development, the 1980 Kwangju Uprising (a pro-democracy movement which ended in the deaths and imprisonment of hundreds of people), the crackdown of the Korea Telecomm Union strike in 1994, and the plight of Korean comfort women during World War II. At the end of the course, the students gave short presentations about their papers to the class.

I was impressed by the maturity and sincerity with which students selected and tackled these difficult subjects. They showed great interest and enthusiasm in studying, discussing and writing about global issues. I believe this enthusiasm stemmed, in part, from the freedom the students had to select, research, analyze and develop these different topics themselves.


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