<Farewell to the Adorables>
Maybe four weeks was way too short. During the last week at Jiguchon, we became teachers for a new class mostly comprised of Chinese immigrants. These students came to my country quite recently, so their fluency in Korean was much lower than the students I met in the previous weeks. Although they seemed to understand what I was saying, they only responded back in Chinese. Thankfully, Peining helped us with the translation, and I was glad to engage in new challenge – language barrier. We only had three days to spend with these students, but surprisingly, at the end of the program, they were more attached to us than I had expected.
Thursday morning started with mixed emotions as students from all grades greeted us in the morning with warm hugs. Fifth graders seemed particularly attached me as they kept asking for my contact info. As a farewell event, Jiguchon prepared an event where some of the students and we got to do video presentations. Youlim and Peining prepared their own videos and I was mainly in charge of the translation during the event. Standing up on front, I saw some of my students burst into tears, and at that moment, I promised myself that I will visit Jiguchon whenever I come back to Korea. After the event, we enjoyed some time taking pictures with each other, and I was glad to learn that so many of our students valued our relationship.
Group Photo Time
On Friday, we departed from Hongdae to Gosung, the northern most city in Gangwon Province. As part of a joint exchange program with Kyungdong University, we were greeted by some of their students who were majoring in hotel culinary arts. The school was located in Sokcho, a city surrounded by beautiful Seorak mountain and the mesmerizing East Sea. After a brief introduction about the school from the founder of the school, we were taught how to make Gimbap (김밥) and Tteokbokki (떡볶이, spicy rice cake). Ifelt shameful that I had no experience of making these typical Korean cuisines, but I was glad that I finally learned how to make them. In the afternoon, we headed out to DMZ area where we got to visit two different sites. The first site was DMZ museum. DMZ museum showed the history of how Korean peninsula was demarcated by the Cold war order. The second site was an observatory that had a paramount view of North Korea. Located by the East Sea, the Observatory of Unification had a breathtaking view of the DMZ area that was totally different from the one we visited during our first week.
Hike at Seorak Mountain
Second day of our trip began with a light hike in Seorak National park. Unfortunately, we only had the time to visit Biseondae (three peaks of rocks) nearby a waterfall, but out in the nature, we were able to take a nice break away from all the chaotic vibes of Seoul. Following the exercise was a fancy lunch at an Italian restaurant in Sokcho. I hadn’t had pasta since I got back to Korea, and as a pasta addict, I was satisfied by Prof. Kim’s choice to do our group meal there.
This Week in a Snapshot
This week was a unique experience within itself. Starting by teaching the students at the school that had recently come to Korea, we could no longer rely solely on Korean as a common language. Rather, Chinese was the main language of communication. Though the language barrier was mostly the same for me with those who spoke Chinese, I was also blessed with being able to teach a child that had recently come to Korea from Honduras. This meant that I was actually able to communicate fully and without barrier with a child, which has never felt so good. Using Spanish in the classroom reminded me of how much I missed using it here, and how much I am sure he misses using Spanish on a daily basis as well.
Last Day Festivities
Along with teaching in a different atmosphere, this was our last week at Chiguchon school, which meant it was very bitter-sweet. Our last day was filled mostly with festivities, with the group members preparing special projects for the school. We created a music video and a documentary featuring all of the children in the school, and I even performed a kpop dance with the fourth-grade girls. I’m proud to say that we did an amazing job dancing to TWICE’s “TT” and the teachers involved (Youlim, Melody, and I) practiced at home many times to get the dance right and to the standard of our students.
Over all, I feel like the last day was a success. Each of gave a small speech about our experience with the school and exchanged gifts. I was so touched to see that so many children came up to us to give us individualized letters. The thought and effort that went into each letter and drawing was amazing, and even made me shed a few tears. I am so happy to have had this experience, and I am sad to have to leave. However, this ending brings a new beginning: the start of our time at the North Korean school.
Next week will bring completely new challenges. We are starting from scratch once again, not only because it is a different atmosphere and different students, but because the age is so drastically different. Instead of teaching young children, we are teaching high schoolers and adults, ranging from 13-33 years old. I have never taught adults before, and trying to come up with ways to teach that aren’t infantilizing will be difficult, especially since that is what we have been doing for a month. No longer will Hot Potato be a good learning tool. Hopefully, we will be able to find new, fun ways to engage with this age group. It is an exciting and nervous time.
Our Time in Gosung
This weekend we had the opportunity to go to Gosung, the northernmost city in South Korea, and again visit the DMZ. This city is historic because it was split in half, one side in North Korea and the other in South Korea. While we were here, we also had the chance to learn how to cook Korean food, landing on kimbap and tteokbokki. Taught by college students, we created some great dishes that we all enjoyed together as lunch. Afterwards, we spent the day with the college students that had taught us how to cook and explored Gosung’s histocial and significant places. I am so glad we were able to experience Gosung and make friendships with people our own age.