Working with older students is an experience that has been extremely rewarding for me. At Woorideul School, I teach the highest English level class, the pre-college students that are in the process of applying to colleges in Seoul. Throughout this whole experience, I have attempted to tailor my teaching towards their needs and desires, which has mainly been speaking. As ESL/ETL students, they have told me that they find speaking the skill that is most valued and requires improvement, so recently I have mainly been teaching through conversations.
Through these conversations, which range from current world events to US politics, I have been able to create a mutually symbiotic relationship between the students. In a way, I have defined our relationship as friends who communicate in English, rather than a teacher-student relationship of teaching English on the board. It helps that my group is small, and it also helps that they shockingly find my monotone ramblings and repetitive “what do you think about this topic?” questions interesting and fun. These conversations have provided me with so much more insight into how totally different certain cultures are from each other.
Being in South Korea for nearly two months, I have become accustomed to some of the cultural norms in the country, such as the extreme levels of PDA displayed in the streets, and the role of family in South Korean life. While discussing these cultural aspects with regards to America with my students, I was taken back to how much I really miss certain details about the United States that have disappeared from my life during my time in Seoul. Although South Korea is an amazing country with a culture that I am extremely lucky to have the opportunity to experience, my conversations with my students are really bringing me back to America.
Certain details within the conversations that I have had with my two students have really surprised me and humanized the North Korean refugee situation that I have spent the past semester learning about. For instance, one of my student aspires to study electrical engineering because she is inspired by the readily accessible electricity in South Korea and wants to build a similar infrastructure in North Korea. My other student has spoken about how she finds South Korea much more convenient than both China and North Korea. When I asked her to explain further, she provided the example of how dishwashing gloves have loops to place on hooks, and this detail was missing from her previous home countries.
As I head into my final days of teaching, I can’t help but further ponder the issues that are interlinked with service in communities such as this one. Some, but definitely not all, of the students have dealt with traumatic pasts in order to gain the freedom that they have in South Korea. Part of this trauma comes from the experience of having people often come in and out of their lives and not having the luxury of stability. Although I really enjoy my time teaching and have been told of mutual feelings by the students, I can’t help but wonder the potential damage that may come with my final goodbye. The day will be Wednesday, and I can only hope that the farewell will be optimistic.