The one who finds Prospect Pak-ed with cultural differences

New face Cindy Pak starts her first year at Prospect teaching spanish (Photo by Mika Evans).
New face Cindy Pak starts her first year at Prospect teaching spanish (Photo by Mika Evans).

Andrew Revord
Staff Writer
You get off from the plane, bleary-eyed and tired from the long trip from your home country to a strange new land.  Your chaperone leads you by your hand as you look around in awe.  There are so many people, so many planes going to and from so many places.  The airport is enormous and advanced, huge to you as a seven-year-old child.  You see your parents, who you haven’t seen in a few years.  They greet you and are very excited, but you are just in shock from the whole experience.  Your father takes you to a strange restaurant called “McDonalds.”  He orders for you what the people here call a “cheeseburger.”  Cautiously, you take a bite.  You decide you don’t like it.  You aren’t used to the bread and cheese, and the meat tastes funny.  Clearly, you’ve going to have to do a lot of adjusting…
Welcome to America.
This may sound like an overwhelming experience, but by now Cindy Pak, a new Spanish teacher at Prospect, whose journey here has just been described, new environments aren’t something to fear.
After all, Pak has had a lifetime of making adjustments.
Pak, who emigrated from South Korea, had to learn English at age seven.  Her ESL teacher was “pretty critical” of her.  Despite this, she says it was fun and easy to learn English.
“It was just a wonderful experience,” she says of her time learning English.
As if being bilingual wasn’t enough for Pak, at age 10 she started learning Spanish through a program her school offered that met 1-2 times a week, and continued learning through high school.  She would end up as a Spanish teacher at a time when the market was good for such a career.
Pak, who said her learning of Spanish was “pivotal in my study abroad”, would go to Spain to do just that, living with a host family in Seville.  There, she said she did a lot of what she describes as “cultural things”, such as living with a Spanish family, singing in a community choir, going to a Spanish wedding, and visiting the neightboring countries of Morocco and Portugal.
In contrast to her time in Spain was the summer she spent in Paraguay doing construction to help the less fortunate there.  Many people lived in makeshift houses that were little more than shacks.
One of Pak’s most touching experiences thee was when she saw two girls, a four-year old and a two-year-old, washing dishes in one of these shacks.  They had said that their mother was out in the market.  In the meantime, the older sister was showing her younger sister how to wash dishes.  They seemed completely carefree in spite of this, singing as they worked.
“That just really struck me that people are living at this poverty level,” Pak said.  Indeed, to most Americans, it would be hard to picture anyone living like this.
Today, Pak isn’t off in some far country exploring the culture or helping others, but is having a new adventure adjusting to her first year as a Spanish teacher at Prospect, and her first full-time job as a teacher after teaching at Buffalo Grove and Rolling Meadows.  Of course, here at Prospect, among many other things to get used to, there is more technology to get used to, as Karen Mirro, a fellow Spanish teacher points out.
Despite this, Pak’s experience with changing schools has been like her experience with learning English, Pak has said that switching schools was more fun than it was difficult.
As a veteran teacher, she has adjusted very well,” says Mirro.
Unlike many first impressions, Mirro is sticking with her first impression of Pak, saying that when she first met her, she thought of her as outgoing and intelligent, “someone I thought was going to be a great colleague.”
Mirro said very confidently that she feels the same way now.
So far, Pak has noticed that the students at PHS are more academically-minded than at her previous school.
“Overall, the students seem more motivated…maybe it’s more of a concern for academic success,” she said.  However, according to her, the students’ personalities are no different.  “Kids are kids.  Kids are great wherever.”