Matthew Holder, a social studies teacher at Mullin, is among 20 Texas teachers who have returned home from a three-week study tour of South Korea and China.

Holder, a graduate of Brownwood High School, said Mullin was the smallest school to participate in the tour.

“I teach sixth through 12th grade classes and I don’t think anyone else on the tour is doing that,” he said.

The tour consisted of a one-week stay in South Korea and two weeks in China beginning on June 9 and ending on June 29. Destinations included many sites of historical and/or cultural significance, including Kyongbuk Palace, Terra Cotta Soldiers, Shanghai Temple, Tianamen Square, Forbidden City, Great Wall of China.

Funding the tour was the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA) whose primary goal is to increase understanding of and promote interests in Asian studies. Holder became eligible for the tour by participating in the Faculty Development Institute on East Asia workshop held at the University of Texas in 2005. To complete the eligibility process, he had to submit an application, resum/ and an essay project proposal outlining how he would use the experience in the classroom.

Because the tour was designed to provide teachers with a first-hand insight into East Asian history, geography and culture, applicants were asked how they would use an opportunity like this in the classroom.

“The obvious things a teacher can take back to the classroom from an experience like this would be photographs and videos, but the most important thing for a teacher to share is the experience itself,” Holder said

“In today’s world students can go online to see photos and/or videos of anywhere in the world. Although computers store a vast amount of data, they still can’t compare to the emotion and enthusiasm that can come from the storytelling of a teacher that has experienced the subject first-hand.”

Holder said he plans to expand his students’ knowledge of East Asia to more than just the basic dates, names and places of an average social studies class. He will use the things he saw in those three weeks to teach his students more about how different the way of life is in East Asia when compared to that in America.

Holder said before the trip, he had expected he would encounter many cultural differences, but after seeing things in person, he admits he was shocked by the lifestyles and norms he was bombarded with from the moment he arrived in South Korea.

“We landed at the airport in Seoul, and they must have been overly busy, because they couldn’t even find a gate for your plane,” Holder said. “We were simply ushered off the plane by way of a mobile staircase right on the tarmac.

“The world just works differently in much of South Korea. I saw trash and sanitation problems that I could have lived my whole life without seeing. Trash and sewage was simply thrown from the windows and doors of homes. At times the smell was horrible but it didn’t seem to bother the locals at all.”

When at the market place, the teachers were treated like all customers and were expected to haggle the price. Usually, a product is sold for half its marked price.

“I don’t know what I will do the next time the cashier tells me my total at Wal-Mart,” Holder said with a chuckle.

The group of 20 teachers plans to get back together in October to exchange photo and video files along with stories they might have about the tour.

“While I’ll be happy to have more photos and videos to share with my future students,” Holder said, “I think it will be the stories about all the things I could not bring back home that will add to my students’ education the most.”