Conservatory professor stays connected to students despite being an ocean away

Professor Choi teaching

Director of Pacific choirs Yejee Choi is teaching this semester some 9,000 miles away from University of the Pacific

Even though it is barely dawn outside of her windows, director of Pacific choirs Yejee Choi greets her students with “good afternoon.” This semester, Dr. Choi is teaching classes from South Korea, some 9,000 miles away from University of the Pacific.

Fall 2020 is absolutely a unique semester,” observes Choi. “I am living in two different time zones while interacting simultaneously with people on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, concurrently immersing myself in two different cultures and languages. It is a stimulating experience.”

Choi who was born in South Korea, returned there last summer to take care of her ailing mother. When the Covid-19 pandemic restricted travel and Pacific announced remote learning for fall 2020, she decided to remain abroad and teach from her mother’s home.

“There certainly have been challenges teaching online, but I don’t see any of those challenges are due to the fact that I’m teaching from another country,” commented Choi. “My earliest class is at 4 a.m. (12 pm PDT) and I wake up at 2 a.m. to get ready for a day. I find this new schedule surprisingly productive. My biggest challenge so far was to remember the time differences between California and South Korea so that I could use proper greetings for my students.”

Remote teaching is not an obstacle in her opinion. The sudden transition last spring was challenging because all her courses had already been planned for in-person teaching and live performances. This time around, she feels that having had ample time to prepare during summer, paired with the support she received from Pacific’s IT and Conservatory teams, helped her overcome any difficulties.

“Compared to last spring, I could prepare my fall courses with much more targeted strategies,” said Dr. Choi. “Even before the spring semester ended, the Conservatory leadership continually provided the faculty with practical resources and guidance to prepare for different teaching scenarios for fall 2020. That allowed me to design my courses ahead of time in a way that would be more suitable for online format.”

Choi was surprised to even find many benefits to online teaching, some of which she is considering continuing after she and her students are back on campus.

“In pre-pandemic era, the grade for my choral ensemble courses was 100% based on participation and the students' performance heavily depended on teamwork,” she elaborated. “In the online instruction setting, my students are given multiple recording assignments throughout the semester. They are now required to be much more independent and far more responsible as individual musicians since they don’t have their fellow singers present physically around them. Reviewing these videos is an opportunity for me to assess each student’s thought process and interpersonal skills.”

Obstacles created by distance and different time zones can be certainly overcome with the help of technology and careful planning. While teaching from across the Pacific Ocean, Choi has faced many similar challenges experienced by faculty and students interacting remotely across the U.S. as well as by Pacific international students taking classes from their home countries. Her message to them is “to cherish the time with their families while they are together, and to set their alarm clocks, so that they don’t miss their class at 4 o’clock in the morning!