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(This blog is from the Summer of 2016.)

As DukeEngage South Korea approached, I was probably most worried about teaching at Jiguchon, a school run by a Christian organization that was primarily designed for multiethnic children. I accumulated a good deal of teaching experience during high school through teaching a writing class for middle school students, but this would be the first time I would be teaching to students not only of different grades and English levels but also to students who could potentially not understand a single word I was saying. Unlike Mulmangcho, the school for North Korean refugee children we would be teaching at for the latter four weeks of the program, Jiguchon consisted of a much more rigorous teaching schedule and environment; we would all be teaching classes of approximately 20-30 students and four periods a day. Processing the responsibility of providing informative and interesting material for these students ended up making me really stressed as I was preparing to come to South Korea. What if the students didn’t like me? What if they weren’t interested in the activities I had planned?

When we were observing at Jiguchon at the beginning of this week, all these questions were suddenly magnified. I wasn’t as worried about the students who were making noise as I was about the students who didn’t show any interest in what was being taught and resorted to doing what they wanted. As I sat in the classes, I realized that even the teachers also had trouble getting the students engaged and interested, although they were doing the best that they could given how underfunded the school was. However, if these teachers, who have already spent a couple of months with these students, couldn’t gain their attention, how could I with only three weeks?

As much as I was concerned, when Wednesday finally came around, I felt weirdly calm and excited as I watched the students come into the classroom one by one. It was then when I realized that instead of focusing so much on my performance, I should be catering to what the students are interested in and doing the best that I can to increase their participation. Yes, things didn’t go exactly as planned, but that’s okay. I had expected that there was going to be a lot of noise and distraction, granted we are teaching elementary school students. I had expected that not everyone was probably going to pay attention, but I’ll attempt to do the best that I can to develop mutual respect with my students and have fun learning English with them in the next three weeks.