Sienna Robertson, Staff Writer
November 13, 2023
An entire year to explore your most beloved interests, hobbies, and skills. This is what a full-year sabbatical can consist of, and History Faculty Nahyon Lee’s sabbatical last year was certainly that, and much more. From the United States to South Korea, Thailand, Australia, and many countries in between, Lee is back in town and ready to share about her sabbatical abroad.
In order to properly follow Lee’s sabbatical expedition, we need to start in Ulsan, South Korea: Lee’s first destination. Lee described the beautiful spot where she and her family stayed, saying, “It was on the coast and we could see the beach every day.” South Korea was the Lee family’s first stop, a decision that involved their cultural roots. “My family heritage is Korean, and so is my son Min’s. I wanted him to have a better understanding of Korean culture, Korean language, and Korean food,” Lee said. In addition to being immersed in Korean lifestyles, Lee gave her son a unique schooling experience during her time in Ulsan. “I enrolled him in a British International School. The primary language spoken was English, but we lived in South Korea from the end of August to the end of the first semester, and he went to school there,” she said. Lee enjoyed the amount of diversity in the school’s atmosphere, saying, “I loved [the school] because it was so global. His teacher was from Scotland, his teaching assistant was from Malaysia, his soccer coach was from Tunisia, [and] his classmates were from all over the world. Our neighbors who were also his classmates were from Brazil. I loved how he was exposed to so many people from around the world.”
In the end, Lee was very happy with her decision to spend time in South Korea with her family. “[Min] got to celebrate Korean festivals and Korean holidays and enjoy lots of Korean food, and of course, we got to travel around South Korea,” she said.
Next, the Lee family made their way to Thailand where they encountered many people of differing backgrounds. “[Min] went to school in Thailand. It was also an international school with British and French tracks … His school also had so many people from all parts of the world: different nationalities, ethnicities, and religions… just for him to have that natural exposure to the world was so wonderful,” she said. Unexpectedly, one of her son’s teachers hailed from the same state as Lee. “His teacher was from Minnesota, where I’m from,” Lee said.
With much more left to go in their journey, the Lee family traveled from Thailand to Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam. “I was in Vietnam for the Lunar New Year, which was the first time I was in a country [while it] practiced Lunar New Year, and it was super fun,” Lee said. In addition to these countries, Lee visited friends in Australia, where she also met kind individuals during a family trip to the zoo. “In Australia, there was this family…they were Australians, but of Korean heritage,” she said. “I got permission to feed [the Kangaroos] berries from a [berry] tree…then I heard the Korean family say [in Korean], ‘I don’t know if they’re supposed to do that.’ I replied back in Korean, ‘Oh, no, I got permission. It’s okay.’ She was so surprised,” Lee said. She then went on to describe the almost immediate bond that she made with the Australian family: “We went out to dinner together, and then they invited us to their house and said, ‘Come on over’…it [was] so fun!” This family’s hospitality remains with Lee. “I don’t know how often that happens in the United States, you know, and I just have so many stories like that where people [from all around the world] are just so warm and friendly,” she said.
Through her journeys abroad, Lee made multiple realizations. She said, “There’s so many incredible, beautiful people all over the world to me, and just to hear their stories, where they come from, and about their heritage…everywhere I go, they’re just so warm.” She extends this appreciation to the nature of her current occupation, saying, “The reason I love teaching history is I get to teach the world, for all of its complexities.” Lee also brought pieces from her time in Prague to her AP European History class. One of her students, Phiona Nabagereka (Class II) said, “She brought [her] photos and outside fun facts about the Defenestration [of Prague] to our AP Euro class from her sabbatical. [Her information] made it easier to remember the event, since I am a visual learner.”
Now that she’s come back home, Lee has reflected on her ability to take last year abroad in the first place. I felt so guilty telling people ‘I’m here on my sabbatical’… there are so many people who work really long and hard hours everywhere in the world, and even here in the United States to that don’t ever get [a sabbatical],” she said. Lee then connected her experience to the opportunities that we as Nobles students have regarding the EXCEL programs. There is one thing that Lee wants students to know: “Don’t feel like you can’t go someplace because you don’t know the language. [EXCEL] is such a gift that Nobles gives us.”
(Photo Credits: Nahyon Lee)