Beaver grad Justin Lyon thought he wanted to work with computers, but after two spring break study-abroad trips, he decided what he really wanted to do was travel the world.
When Justin Lyon ’09 IST visited Penn State Beaver in September for the first time in nearly two years, his two-hour drive from Cleveland wasn’t unusual.
His 20-hour flight from South Korea, on the other hand, was far from typical.
The Penn State Beaver alumnus took a job teaching English in South Korea shortly after graduating in December 2009 with a degree in Information Sciences and Technology. He quickly adapted to both his new career and his new home.
“I didn’t know anything about Korea before I went,” he said.
Having lived there for more than a year now, Lyon said he’s learned how to fit in. The working environment and learning proper etiquette were the hardest adjustments, he said. And the language can be intimidating.
“I think I’ve done well learning their language for the past year and a half,” he said.
Lyon’s desire to live abroad was planted during his high school years when his family began hosting foreign exchange students.
“I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to travel a bit,” he said.
Still, as a freshman at Beaver campus Lyon knew exactly what he wanted out of college.
“I was looking for an IT program, and Penn State’s IST program is unique,” Lyon said. “They have a broad range of subjects that they cover that aren’t available at other universities.”
As an IST major at Penn State Beaver, Lyon wasn’t simply sitting in front of a computer all day. Each year, Dr. Kay Wijekumar, associate professor of IST, takes a group of her students on an international trip. In Lyon’s case, he went to Germany and Spain, two experiences he said furthered his desire to move abroad after graduation.
Wijekumar described her former student as low-key but ambitious. At the time he was in her class, Lyon was looking into moving to Japan after completing his degree, but Wijekumar encouraged him to look at other opportunities.
Making a new plan
With Wijekumar’s advice in the back of his mind, Lyon did start looking at other opportunities. But he didn’t just shift his focus away from Japan; he shifted it away from IST.
“After my internship, I realized it wasn’t the environment I wanted to be in,” he said.
It didn’t take Lyon long to figure out what his next step was: become an English teacher in South Korea.
Although Lyon said his mother was supportive of his decision, he had to prepare a comprehensive argument to convince his father that the move was a good idea. Eventually, Lyon’s father approved of his plan, and in March 2010, just three months after graduating from Penn State, Lyon’s plane was landing on a runway in South Korea.
Lyon works for the Muju Global Education Center, a company that gives children exposure to Western culture and teaches them basic English. The center, which Lyon said is simply shortened to “the English Village,” is located in the town of Muju, about three hours south of Seoul, South Korea’s capital.
Each week, Lyon and his fellow teachers get a new group of children, but the curriculum doesn’t change.
“It’s an immersion camp. We’re there mostly to give them exposure to foreigners,” he said.
Despite only spending a week with each group of students, Lyon gets the opportunity to share a part of his life with them.
“I’ve shown my students pictures of home (in Cleveland), and it just blows their minds that we have a lake you can’t see the other side of,” he said.
Lyon also teaches adult classes twice a week.
While Lyon spends a large amount of his time teaching, he had some learning of his own to do when he arrived in his new home. That required an ability to adapt that he developed at Penn State Beaver.
Dr. Chris Rizzo got to know Lyon well in his time at the Beaver campus. The director of student affairs at Beaver said Lyon has qualities that would help him adjust to his new home.
He struck me as a very open-minded guy,” Rizzo said of Lyon, who was a member of the Student Government Association.
While at Beaver, Lyon was a founding member of the men’s soccer team, from its inception as an intramural club to its current status as an intercollegiate sport.
“He’s always struck me as somebody who’s not afraid to take risks,” Rizzo said.
A look to the future
Lyon’s teaching job is based on one-year contracts. Currently halfway through his second contract, Lyon said he plans to take at least one more when his current contract expires.
“I’m pretty comfortable in Korea,” he said.
Lyon’s already made friends from around the world, including people from South Africa, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.
Lyon doesn’t have any plans to sit still for too long. After his time in South Korea is finished, he said he’d like to move to Germany or Austria.
With so many possibilities, Lyon still looks back at Penn State Beaver as a major influence.
“Beaver provided the experiences that helped me make my decision on what I wanted to do.”
Originally written by Matt Jones for the Penn State Beaver Nittany News, Fall 2011