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This week we started teaching at the Woorideul School. But first, a little background. This school specializes in teaching people of North Korean background who either came as a refugee from North Korea, or is a child of a North Korea parent. Most of these student’s ages range from mid-teens to late twenties and come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Woorideul helps these students adjust into South Korean society prepare for college.

Our first day at Woorideul was about as confusing and hectic as it could get. For our first period, we each were assigned a reading club. I was assigned to one of the beginner English classes, which initially, I was pretty intimidated by. After all, my Korean was basically nonexistent and my struggles with communication at Jiguchon were still fresh in my mind. These fears were quickly relieved when I discovered that all my students spoke perfect Chinese, which became my primary language of communication with them. Most of the lesson plans and readings I had spent hours preparing, however, were deemed useless after I realized they were way too difficult for them. I guess there’s got to be a give and take somewhere. After reading club we all switched classes into regular periods which I taught with Youlim and Val. Our second period was an astonishingly diverse group of students with ages ranging mid-teens to late twenties and backgrounds from all over East Asia. After our second period, we were then unexpectedly told that we would be switching classes and students again. By the end of the day, most of us had taught in three different classrooms and had dozens of new faces and names to learn! This was in stark contrast to our experience at Jiguchon where we taught the same group of students for the whole time.

Personally, I wasn’t too fond of this schedule because it means we don’t have as much time to bond and connect with our students. We all quickly realized that it was going to be a lot harder to impart meaningful lessons and knowledge when you only see your students for a fifty-minute period everyday. I found this frustrating, yet I understand that while the system at Woorideul is flawed, it is not mine or anyone else’s job to challenge these rules. After all, they are the ones who invited us here and are giving up valuable teaching time. Rather we have to do our best to work within the existing framework. We make up by addressing deficiencies in our own lesson planning and in-class activities.

First day confusions aside, the rest of the week was pretty great. Since a lot of the students were in their late teens and early twenties, they all had exceptional classroom manners it was a lot easier to engage in conversation about complex topics. I may not be a professional teacher (though sometimes I wonder if they might be better off just hiring one instead of us), it is always rewarding for me to hear a “Teacher!” or make the students laugh. Many of them are curious about American culture and college life, so I always spend the last couple of minutes of every class talking about topics from music to food to movies to politics to college sports to life at Duke. One thing I quickly learned – being able to speak and understand Chinese has been very helpful in teaching these students. Most of these students, despite their Korean heritage, were either born or spent a significant part of their lives growing up in China. Though it has only been the first week, I am definitely looking forward to bonding with and teaching these students over the next couple of weeks!