Twenty-five English and social studies teachers from across the U.S., including Chon Lee from Santa Monica’s Lincoln Middle School, recently spent six weeks in South Africa as part of a summer institute hosted by the University of Arkansas Monticello School of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

The summer institute was funded through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to encourage American schoolteachers to develop curriculum materials for their classrooms to incorporate information about the African country.

The grant funds paid for international airfare, transportation costs in South Africa and room and board for the 25 teachers, who were chosen for the summer institute by winning a national competition.

The teachers lived in both urban and rural areas of South Africa, spending their first three weeks in residence at the University of Western Cape, where they heard lectures on the various aspects of history and culture from South African scholars.

Called “South Africa: Continuity and Change,” the institute began June 22nd and after the first three weeks the group traveled extensively, with trips to the National Arts Festival in Grahamtown, Tsitsikamma National Park, the port city of Durban and Johannesburg. There were also visits to villages so the teachers could learn about farming and rural life.

“I was thrilled and honored to be selected from a competitive pool of applicants from across the U.S. and represent my middle school, Santa Monica and California,” Lee said. “I have had the opportunity to witness and walk through squatter shacks in Johannesburg, talk with families in Soweto townships, visit impoverished schools surrounding Cape Town and see the effects of crime and unemployment in Durban, all of this being juxtaposed with the beautiful landscape of South Africa.”

Lee said that, upon reflection, the most memorable parts of the trip were conversations with South Africans of various socio-economic and demographic backgrounds.

“Those simple words, exchanges, glances, smiles, laughs and tears will live on in my mind and heart forever,” Lee said.

Lee teaches eighth-grade English at Lincoln Middle School. He plans to have students collaborate on a letter-writing exchange with a South African English class when his Santa Monica students began lessons in apartheid literature.

Lincoln Middle School is in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. Lee attended the district’s Webster Elementary and Malibu Junior High Schools in Malibu.