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(This blog is from the Summer of 2016.)

Despite the fact that we are becoming much more acclimated to the interacting with the kids, lesson planning strategy, and controlling a classroom (not to mention the kids becoming acclimated to us), the beginning of this week was quite a challenge for the group as a whole. Of the five members that fell ill over the weekend, three were unable to go to class until Wednesday or later. Poor Michelle was only able to teach on Wednesday!

Thankfully, my English class partner Ana and I were able to remain healthy, and given our well-behaved students had little trouble for most of the week. That being said, it was not perfect. On Thursday, we ran into some trouble with vocabulary surrounding time. The students had much less prior knowledge in that particular area than we expected, and we found that expressing the complex and intangible concepts to be more difficult than anything we had attempted this far. The most difficult thing about it was that many of the words and grammatical constructions we were trying to teach just don’t exist in Korean. This was a bit difficult for me to work around because I’ve only ever worked with Romance or Germanic languages in the past, which all have some sort of equivalent for most concepts, even if the construction is very different. For example, the words “in, at, and on” do not exist in Korean, and trying to describe first why you have to put a random two letter word in front of the hour or day designated for a particular thing, and then what the differences where between in two hours, in the morning, on Monday, at night, at five, etc., is quite a conundrum, as was describing the difference between before and ago. We found ourselves very thankful for the advice to plan for flexibility given by past Duke engagers, and when the kids began to get discouraged, we were easily able to slow down and shift the week’s schedule.

The biggest problem we faced this week, however, only surfaced on Friday. Upon calling on a student who had been moved up from a lower level, she burst into tears. Upon sitting down in the hallway with the student and the coordinator, Ana learned that the student had been being bullied by the older boys in the class for being behind the rest of the class in English skills. This was some kind of difficult news for me, because in every other teaching environment I’ve been in I’ve been proud to be able to notice and address bullying fairly quickly and efficiently. The fact that some of the students were able to tease others in front of the teachers so easily was kind of demoralizing for me. So far in the trip, we had been able to work around the language barrier fairly effectively, and there had been no serious consequences of it up until this one, large, very visible event of personal significance to us as teachers and to the students. That being said, I was able to talk to them briefly about bullying and our expectations, and the coordinator came in and gave them a very serious talking to, which left a few looking quite remorseful. At the end of the day, I think the student will be happier in a class where she is not struggling to keep up, and we made sure she knew how proud we were of how hard she worked and how quickly she was able to learn in our class, and that we understood her decision to move back down both for content and classmate reasons.

The music class, on the other hand, which does not have such well-behaved kids, and this week only had one teacher (yours truly), was a bit more of a challenge on a day-to-day basis, although I did have some help on a few days from other group members and even one of the volunteers from Germany who’ve been working at the school for quite a while (sadly this was their last week). On Friday, however, I made the wonderful discovery that the disruptive kids in the class all enjoy Frozen, and for a glorious 10 minutes at the end of that class, every single student was attentively learning and participating at the same time.