This week, I experienced language barriers, sad farewells, and unprecedented bonding.
Going into this week of teaching, I was aware that we were going to teach the multicultural class, a group of students that have recently came to South Korea and do not have a strong grasp on the Korean language. This would be the first time that I would have significant issues communicating with my students, since I had atleast been able to speak and teach in some Korean with my previous classes. Immediately, the challenge was apparent and all of the plans that we created were replaced with improvisation.
However, as each period passed, we were better able to understand what worked in terms of producing an environment conducive to learning for our students. Whether it was Pictionary, hot potato, or just speaking one-on-one about their interests, I quickly came to realize that these students were just like any other that we had taught before and that language shouldn’t stop me from bonding with my students. We only had three days to spend with them, a significantly smaller amount of time than with other classes, and I was determined to fully focus my efforts so that time wouldn’t stop this experience from being special.
By the second day, I started to talk to my Chinese speaking table entirely in English and Korean.
Although I created lots of confusion, blank stares, and 몰라요s (“I don’t know”), many laughs were shared between the students and me. They would always laugh at my false attempts to understand their language by nodding and saying “yes”, and I would jokingly laugh whenever they visibly became stressed during my attempts to have a conversation. All the students were happily engaged in our activities, and I was happy to be able to bring an extra bit of immersion through playful conversations that helped me bond closer with the students.
I shared many conversations with one student in particular, and we created an important and special bond that ultimately surprised me. Even though her Korean was at a more basic level than mine, we were able to have somewhat significant conversations. Through physical gestures, pointing, and the use of translators (both electronic and human [thanks peining!!]), Soyoung and I developed a friendship that was unlikely and unexpected. We talked about k-pop, future plans, and even phone games. Every conversation came with a bit of struggle since my Chinese language skills are nonexistent, but somehow, we were able to make it work.
On the last day, we had a closing ceremony for the Duke University English Camp at Jiguchon School. The presentation mainly included dancing, speeches, and music videos. During the music videos, I watched clips of the past few weeks of teaching these talented and loving students. In that moment, I realized how quickly time passes by when you’re enjoying what you’re doing and the people that you’re surrounded by. It was a really emotional moment for myself and many of the students and teachers in the room.
As everything wrapped up and we were taking the final photos of the program, I prepared my farewells to all of the students who had made my time at Jiguchon so special.
I said goodbye to Mark (지민, Zhimin) a student who had always been happy to see us and tried to start up conversations with his limited amount of English. He had the most endearing “hello teacher” ever, and he also has serious skills in editing videos. He hopes to one day be a successful YouTuber, and I wholeheartedly believe that he has the skills to do so.
I said goodbye to James (천하, Cheon Ha) a fun loving student who was silly and knew the boundaries between school and play. No matter what environment or mood I was in, he always infected me with his smile and laughter. He is an amazing artist and surprised me the first time I assigned a drawing assignment. One day, I hope to see his art again, but more importantly, I wish to see his bubbly personality again.
I said goodbye to Tiffany (지연, Jiyeon) an adorable student who appeared a bit out of place in her own classroom. Being a non-Chinese speaker that was older than her classmates, she was a little out of place in her classroom. Although initially unmotivated to learn English, I quickly realized that Jiyeon just wanted a little love and attention. In a way, I acted as her older brother the week that I taught her, and I grew to adore her energetic and (physically) loving personality. She is a bit unsure about her future, but I am confident that her heart and drive will take her to far places.
Lastly, I said goodbye to Amy (소영, Soyoung) a hilarious student who was the subject of my relentless goal of communicating with those who shared no common language with me. Whatever the situation I placed her in, she would always give me a big smile and try very hard to answer my ridiculous questions. Our time was unfortunately short, but we didn’t allow it to be a hindrance. From eating lunch together to consistently talking throughout each day, we formed a strong friendship that transcended languages. Soyoung has an amazing heart and a strong drive to learn, and I can only hope that she remembers our unique friendship as she continues her journey into life.
Thank you, Jiguchon School, for your warm, caring, understanding, and loving acceptance of me. I will forever keep you in my heart and never forget the invaluable lessons you have taught me about friendships and language.
I spent these last four weeks teaching, but I ended up learning more about myself through these wonderful students. Despite my struggles in communicating with them, they all welcomed me with open arms and made my time teaching so much more enjoyable. As I said in my speech to the entire school, all of the children at Jiguchon were great students, but they were even better friends, and although it makes me sad that our time was so short, I am grateful that I was able to meet such remarkable humans.