University of Georgia
November 2016
The Arts
Poetry fills space between two worlds

Yohan Hwang

Poetry fills space between two worlds

Studying at UGA helped deepen South Korean native's teaching skills, but it also gave him a new way to look at poetry.

As a graduate student, Yohan Hwang often found himself bridging two worlds.

Not just because the South Korean native was studying in the U.S.; rather, Hwang felt pulled between his need to write grammatically correct and his desire to allow his true, non-English-speaking voice to shine through in his writing.

The gap between these two worlds hit him extra hard one day, while leaving the university writing center and digesting the amount of red corrections marked on his paper.

“I needed some place to take a rest,” said Hwang, who is set to receive his Ph.D. in language and literacy education this December. “I sat down in front of the building and wrote this poem:”

Teacher’s red nib
scours, teases, and commands

Write as natives write.
Speak as natives speak.
Think as natives think.

It pokes me. But how
I can be what I’m not?

I need to ink my
정체성 (Jung-Chae-Sung)* somewhere.

I write as I write.
I speak as I speak.
I think as I think.


Today, Hwang teaches English at several universities around Seoul, South Korea. Even though his classroom lessons are focused on the “rules” or grammar, he still feels strongly that poetry is what helped get him through some of the challenges he faced as a student in America.

He came to the University of Georgia for the opportunity to study TESOL, or Teaching English Speakers of Other Languages, with an emphasis on poetry with professor Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor in the College of Education. His thesis focused on poetic inquiry in training international TESOL educators.

Poetry is more than an art form, he says—it’s a study in language, an extension of your personality and a coping mechanism.

“Living in a different country and living in a different language is not easy,” he said, noting that Cahnmann-Taylor advised him to look at everything around him as source material for his poetry. “So if a bad thing happened, I wasn’t in a panic because I could write a poem, at least. So I became a more positive person.”

Before studying in the U.S., Hwang was already a poet, having written more than 100 pieces in South Korea.

Not only did his experience studying at UGA help deepen his teaching skills, but it also gave him a new way to look at poetry—and how the form of writing translates beyond translation.

“Just as poetry writing helped me to arrive at this point, I deeply ponder how I can be a teacher who invites students to view the study of English language as a fundamentally creative process that manifests future possibilities,” Hwang added. “In addition, by understanding English-as-foreign-language-learners’ refined experiences and unrefined feelings through poetry writing, I want to be a teacher who engenders new connections and relationships in the classroom, exploring their emotions and identities.”

—Kristen Morales, College of Education