This week marked our final time at the Jiguchon School. All the relationships we had formed over the past four weeks would begin a new chapter. Needless to say, leaving the students was incredibly hard. I had gotten to know so many of them that it seemed odd to suddenly depart from their lives. This brings up a question that we as DukeEngagers don’t often consider, “is it harmful to enter the children’s lives only to abruptly leave?” Especially for the younger students, it must be difficult to see a friendly face suddenly disappear. The older students, realizing this possible loss of communication, urged many of us to friend them on both KakaoTalk and Facebook. I was more than happy to oblige to this request as this will provide an opportunity to see my little students grow up. Upon accepting a certain 6th grader, I was amazed to see that she had already posted photos with me. This was a very pleasant surprise as it spoke to our level of connection reaching outside of her school life. I think she genuinely saw me as a friend and therefore chose to portray this friendship to her greater social circle.
Once the information and goodbyes were exchanged, Jiguchon was kind enough to have a fairwell assembly for the team and I. We watched a video prepared by two of the students, heard from the principal, and were each allotted a minute or two to express our gratitude. The whole ceremony was as rewarding as it was emotional. It was strange to look out on the hundred or so students I had lived with and have to say goodbye. Memories from each class flashed in my head as I looked upon so many familiar faces. After I sat down, a small boy, named Jacob, came over and sat in my lap. This student is notorious for acting out in mood swings, but in this moment, he was nothing but peaceful. He cuddled up and occasionally played with my hands as we watched the assembly progress. The boy didn’t care about the vocabulary worlds he had learned or the “Simon Says” games he had won; he was merely thankful for our company. The feeling was mutual.
To celebrate the end of the first portion of our DukeEngage work, the professors took us on an exploration to Gosung, the northernmost province of South Korea. Here we were met by students and faculty from Kyungdong University. We partook in a cooking class with the students, visited the national DMZ museum, and walked around on the beach with our newfound friends. The next day, we embarked on a brief but pleasant hike to a waterfall in Seoraksan. It was great to get away from the busy city life of Seoul and relax in the mountains. Overall, the Gosung trip was a much needed break to ensure we would be ready to start the next chapter of our work at Woorideul School.