Successful is not necessarily the most apt word to describe our first week of teaching at Jiguchon school, but it was certainly a rewarding experience.
On Monday, our group arrived at the school early with our plans in mind and an optimistic view. Immediately within the first period, our plans fell apart and teaching took a turn. There was a large discrepancy of English proficiency within the class between the boys and girls, which made it especially hard to teach in a classroom-wide style. However, with some broken Korean, friendly Chinese conversations, and repetition of English words, we made it through our lesson plans and were able to engage in more interesting activities for the students, such as creating a music video.
By the end of the day, all of us were extremely tired, but energized by the new friendships and bonds that we had created with the kids. After much needed naps, more delicious (and soybean free!) Korean food, and sleep (6:30 AM alarms take me back to high school…) we arrived back at Jiguchon.
Tuesday was more or less the same routine for our group, and teaching was fairly smooth. Unfortunately, there definitely were issues with the males in the classroom being less motivated to participate in activities, but they were definitely more encouraged to engage once they were spoken to in Korean or Chinese. Initially, it was a little uneasy speaking to the students in a language other than English since we feared the students developing a dependence on speaking foreign languages to us. However, at the end of the day, we recognized that the purpose of the program is to connect in a way that transcends language. Whatever language we used, our main goal was to introduce the joy of teaching and create positive relationships with these students who have not been provided the opportunities which are often overlooked by us.
On Wednesday, we took a break from teaching as it was Memorial Day in South Korea, a day to commemorate the men and women who sacrificed during the Korean War and other significant battles. In a classroom, if being a student is hard, being a teacher is a whole different story. Although we’ve only been teaching for two days, the day off was a much-needed time for us to rest, recharge and take time to better our lesson plans. After a brief meeting regarding the lesson plans of the next two days, many of us spent our down time napping or indulging in some Korean snacks and TV shows. In the evening, Youlim and Peining went out to the streets of Hongdae and tried some delicious tteokbokki, a staple Korean dish made out of rice cakes and fish cakes drenched in a sweet and spicy sauce. To our surprise, the cost of a single portion tteokbokki was 2,500 won, which roughly equates to only $2.30 USD!
The next day we delved back into our teaching routines. As usual, Jea, Valentina and Peining were in charge of fifth graders while the rest taught in sixth grade. In the last two days of teaching, we covered topics such as food, restaurant simulations, money, jobs, directions, colors, numbers and shapes. A noticeable difference between the beginning and these two days was that the kids are now much more comfortable interacting and communicating with us. Though this is a positive attribute to help them engage in English-learning activities, it also meant that we spent longer time each day getting them to settle down and focus. Besides teaching English, we allocated one class period every day to film our final music video project. We chose the song I’m Yours by Jason Mraz. The kids made signs that spelled out keywords of the song such as “I’m Yours” and “Loved”, as well as acting out lines such as “bending over backwards” and “checking my tongue in the mirror”. The filming process went quite smoothly and the kids enjoyed immensely seeing themselves on the camera. The final music video is in the process of editing, so stay tuned!
On Friday, sadly, we reached the end of our teaching journey with the 5th and 6th graders. The children seemed quite disappointed that there will be no more English camps with us next week. To keep connected, many of the 6th grade students added the DESKers on social media and gaming platforms. We’re all very excited to see this relationship continue, as well as new relationships forming with the 3rd and 4th graders next week.
On Saturday, we took the opportunity to further explore Korea culturally, The week is so packed with teaching that we are usually unable to go anywhere, whether due to time constraints or energy levels. With this freedom, we took a trip to Sichung (City Hall) to explore the Deoksugung Palace. Although we weren’t doing a tour, it was still interesting to see how Korea’s governing functioned in the past, given that it is so different from any system that we have experienced in America.
A little later, we visited Hanok Village, which was a traditional village in which the residents still lived a simpler way of life. Unfortunately, the place was closed off due to the mass amounts of tourists that were intruding on the residents’ lifestyles, so we were only able to walk around the (very hilly and narrow) streets. At night, there was some rain, which was a huge bummer because it marks the imminent monsoon season. Luckily, it stopped quickly, and we spent the rest of the night doing some quality group bonding.