Thursday, September 7, 2023
Jason Lammer with family
Jason Lammer with family visiting Taiwan

Since graduating from the University of Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in 2002, Jason Lammer, an Iowa City native, has been living and working abroad for almost two decades as an English language educator and business owner. Learn more about his experience through the Q&A piece below. 

Can you tell us about yourself? 

 I was a first-generation student starting from very humble beginnings. When I enrolled at the University of Iowa, I don’t recall there being any such designation as “first-generation student,” but that’s what I was. Being granted admission was fairly easy but graduating on time proved difficult. I took the long road. As an undergraduate, studying abroad, for me, was simply not part of the equation due to a serious lack of funds. I really wanted to go abroad, and I knew that once I graduated, my BA from Iowa would allow me to work internationally. So, that is exactly what I did. After graduating from Iowa, I accepted the first job offered abroad and have been based out of Gangneung, Korea, a beautiful coastal town horseshoed by mountains since 2004. My degree from Iowa has opened doors for me internationally. I am truly grateful for that, and am a proud alumnus. During my past two decades abroad, I have been blessed with opportunities to travel in both famous and exotic locations on four continents, including rainforests on Borneo, safari in South Africa, bazaars in Marrakech, and trekking in Bulgaria. Sometimes people have asked me what was the most interesting place, or the most unusual food I tried. I always answer with a story about some of the interesting people that I’ve met in those places. I’ve found that any great place is only great because of the people who are there. It’s really about the people. I’ve accomplished many things during my time abroad. But I didn’t do it alone. I have been very fortunate to have been helped along the way by many very kind, generous, and basically nice people. This serves as a constant reminder to me to always help others when I am able to. 

In 2006, I finally had the means to study abroad. I travelled from Korea to Durban, South Africa, and studied to receive a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) from the University of Cambridge. This certificate taught me the skills and provided me the credentials to teach English as a foreign language as a professional. I worked for eight years as an English teacher in an all-girls public middle school in Korea. I was the first foreign teacher placed at the school and the only foreign teacher among a staff and faculty of 65 members. There was a steep learning curve for me.  I’ve also served as the district coordinator of Gangneung for the English program in Korea, as a teacher trainer for newly graduated Korean English teachers with the Gangwon Education and Training Institute, and as a team mentor with a UNESCO related student project, Intangible Cultural Cooperation Network. I also received my Independent English Language Instructor License from the Korean Gangwon Provincial Office of Education. In 2013, my wife and I co-founded our own English language school, Hong’s English Academy. We are now celebrating our 10th year in business, but more importantly, we are also celebrating the many successes of our students both past and present. 

How did the University of Iowa prepare you to be a global citizen? 

As a high school student, I read everything David Morrell, a former professor of English at Iowa, wrote. He often used exotic and/or international locales as a backdrop in his novels when I came to campus, I was truly hoping to meet him, but he’d moved on by then). His writings definitely sparked an interest in me to go exploring. As an undergrad, I met quite a few international students in class or on campus. I paid for my tuition with a “bartender’s scholarship.” And while working downtown, I met and befriended a few international students. During the course of my studies, I had the privilege of learning from some great people, who were also my professors and members of the international community. It has been 20 years since I left Iowa, but as I recall, the state of Iowa is full of great people. The Iowa City and university  communities are home to many open-minded, tolerant, and free-thinking people. This more often creates an equitable environment where all people are free to live their lives and express themselves according to what they believe is best for them. This environment is a great place for students to prepare themselves to explore the world with an open mind and tolerance for differences. 

What is your advice to Iowa students and young alumni who are interested in expanding their footprint globally? 

The first steps to expanding your footprint globally can begin right on campus. In classes, residence halls, and libraries on campus, you will meet international exchange students currently studying at Iowa. It can be as simple as a smile and a “Hello.” And, then from there maybe an offer to study together, sit at the same lunch table, etc. In a broad stroke, be welcoming to and befriend the current international students at Iowa. If you think you want to study abroad, definitely explore and research the options and plan accordingly. Visit the International Programs website and office. If you feel you may not have the financial means or face other barriers, but truly feel that studying abroad is something which you must do or need to do- that this a calling in your life- then you should be prepared to roll up your sleeves and do whatever it takes to make it a reality. And when you are abroad, be respectful of local cultures and customs. Also, be kind to yourself and realize that you will undoubtedly, perhaps unknowingly, make some cultural mistakes. Apologize as needed and be grateful when the local people are tolerant. 

Looking back, what would you have done differently as a college student? 

If I could go back and do it over, I wouldn’t change a thing. In hindsight, I can see many things that I could have done better, and perhaps should have done better. However, when I consider the life I enjoy presently, I would be unwilling to risk that a change to the past may affect a change in my current life. My wife is wonderful. Our son is amazing. We operate a successful business that helps many students. I’ve had the chance to travel to exotic places and more importantly to meet many great people along the way. My life and my family’s life has been blessed. I am grateful and thankful to our Creator. 

So, no. I wouldn’t change a thing. 


International Programs (IP) at the University of Iowa (UI) is committed to enriching the global experience of UI students, faculty, staff, and the general public by leading efforts to promote internationally oriented teaching, research, creative work, and community engagement.  IP provides support for international students and scholars, administers scholarships and assistance for students who study, intern, or do research abroad, and provides funding opportunities and grant-writing assistance for faculty engaged in international research. IP shares their stories through various media, and by hosting multiple public engagement activities each year.