Kang’s tutoring services go global

Daniel Kang’s (12) four-year experience as an educator, although he’d never call himself one, started during a family vacation before his freshman year.

During the vacation, as many kids tend to be at their grandparents’ house, Kang was bored. But Kang, even as a 14-year-old, was a budding entrepreneur. He was years away from the present, where he now has experience with the Overseas Korean Foundation, and has done translation work for Korean companies. Back then, he didn’t have quite the pedigree he does now, but he still had the same passion and drive for change. So, when he received an offer from the middle school principal of the village he was staying in to speak to students about the United States, explaining that they didn’t see many Americans in that part of Korea and that they had little understanding of American culture, Kang knew he had an opportunity to help.

Upon arriving at the school’s assembly the next day, Kang noticed one thing: the entire middle school was made up of 20 children. And so Kang’s speech evolved into a conversation with kids his own age.

“These kids rarely travel,” Kang said. “They just farm, and so all the questions they had for me were about the United States. Since I was their age [at the time], it was less of me talking down to them and more of us just talking in a casual conversation.”

After going over the time limit for the initially planned 20-minute assembly, Kang realized the assembly was simply not enough to satiate the students’ questions. So, he offered to come back every day for the rest of his summer, answering any questions they had and more importantly, tutoring them for their upcoming state exams, specifically on the English section.

When Kang returned to the United States, he began his freshman year and for a while, it went as typically as freshman years can be expected to go. He went through Honors English, reading To Kill a Mockingbird. He joined Speech & Debate, laying the foundation for his love for debate that would persist throughout high school. After a while of going through the motions however, something felt off.

“The kids [in Korea] were always in the back of my mind,” Kang said. “I talked to them constantly [through Skype] and answered any questions they had, but I asked myself, ‘How can I take this to the next level?’”

The next level would be Kang’s program: Mission Empowering and Inspiring Global Youth Through Education. (Mission EIGTYE+). He said he felt like he could help the rural students further and that the next level was a consistent, formal program.

Thus, with the oversight of a fellow church member, a former president of a large Korean tutoring service, he developed a curriculum and set out to formalize his program beyond just his annual visit to the middle school in South Korea.

The opportunity to expand came during the summer before his junior year, when Kang was invited to attend the Korean Teens Networking Camp, where teenage entrepreneurs of Korean descent from around the world meet to work together. Here, Kang met three people who would help him take the program beyond South Korea and create the “MePlus” part of his program, where local leaders could execute his vision abroad.

“Some of the people I met there were real go-getters and I told [them], ‘I have a program, it’s up and running, and I know I can get the funds we need for it,’” he said. “I then came up with this [part of the] program called MePlus, where all of us become leaders in our community. I’m like a big umbrella, and they’re working on their own branches, but they still come check with me when they need the help.”

As a result of the connections he made at this camp, Kang’s tutoring program is now functional in Kazakhstan, Mexico, and The Netherlands, in addition to his own branch, which still functions in South Korea.

“I’ve made it so that [the branch leaders] can make [the program] hyper localized and need-based,” Kang said. “In the [Dutch program], they already speak English there, so it’s more cultural-oriented. Or, in the one in Mexico, they focus more on primary school.”

While maintaining autonomy, the branch leaders still stay close to Kang’s vision of independent education. Skyping each leader bi-weekly and working closely with them on every aspect of the program from technical support to curriculum and funding through donation campaigns, Kang remains the head of the program. He’s even visited some of the foreign branches to gain an understanding of how his program has manifested itself outside of Korea.

“I’m essentially the central hub of the organization and it requires a certain degree of micromanagement,” he said. “Everything that happens [in the branches] needs the check mark from me. It’s a very inefficient process but it allows me to understand every piece of the process and keep its integrity.”

However, not every part of the process has gone smoothly. Kang said he put his “blood, sweat, and tears” into the program to get it where it is today. He remembers writing letters “to just about everyone [he knew]” his freshman year to get donations to be able to afford his plane ticket to Korea and receiving a total of one dollar. He remembers nearly quitting at the end of his junior year due to the sheer time commitment it required and the abject amounts of stress coordinating the programs caused him.

“[Maintaining the program] was hard and in my experience, more often than not in these type of endeavors you’ll fail,” Kang said. “But if you can do something to empower and inspire people, then that’s something nobody can take away from you.”

Ultimately, it was this empowerment that kept Kang with Mission EIGTYE+. He said that his experiences with students showed him the power of his program. One particularly powerful experience he had with a student who couldn’t attend school consistently because of his grandmother’s disability and commitments to his family farm exemplified this for Kang.

“This boy absorbed material incredibly quickly, Kang said. “I could tell he was very bright. “He asked me, ‘What can I do after you leave that can help me,’ and so  I gave him the English version of his favorite book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I told him to compare it with the Korean translation the school library had, transcribe it, and go word by word and figure out the meanings of each word. I return the next year and he’s finished the book. That’s the level of passion that is the core of the program and what keeps it running.”

Another experience with the school’s “quiet kid” influenced Kang’s decision to keep on going with the program. Rarely speaking in front of his peers, he was bullied in the school of 20. By the end of the program, with Kang’s encouragement, he spoke English in front of the entire school.

“At the start of the program, he was a shell,” Kang said. “It was like talking to a brick wall. But over the days, I found out things like that he liked baseball or that he liked certain K-Pop actors and I tried to coax him into speaking. On the final day, he blew us all away by speaking English in front of everyone and the fact that I made him confident enough to speak, in a foreign language nontheless, was very empowering.”

However, the moment that stands out to Kang the most is when his program came full circle, and his first batch of students he tutored in Korea earned scholarships to visit the United States. Meeting up with them in Yosemite, Kang said, was the culmination of everything he ever wanted from the program.

“I went from talking about the United States in a rural Korean middle school to meeting [the students] in Yosemite two years later,” Kang said. “That was the dream.”

Now, what started in rural Korea has expanded globally and according to Kang, he’s seen his dream realized.

“There’s nothing better in this world [than] to see people better themselves,” he said. “To see that I’ve helped make a change, that’s the most I can ask for because I’m doing stuff that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do—helping people and creating change.”