This week was our last and final week at Jiguchon, and it was a whirlwind of emotions.
Our last class consisted of the kids who recently arrived to Korea, and when I say recent, I mean recent. Maggie came to Seoul in early June, so she stayed here for a shorter time than I had. However, though I know that my time here is temporary, she doesn’t. In this tiny time period, she carries the expectation of having to acclimate to both the language and culture of this entirely different country.
Chinese students comprised the general majority of the class, which made my life much easier compared to last week. This time, I was really needed in the classroom as a translator since most of the kids actually didn’t know Korean. This pushed me to take a more active role as a teacher teaching up front and leading the games and lessons, something that I had been more reluctant to do before.
Language truly transformed into a central facet of the experience for me. I really admire how Valentina and Brock have been able to balance teaching without knowing their language. The Chinese-speakers always build stronger connections with me because of our shared language, and I feel like they also feel more comfortable around me because of this as well. This certainly rang true for our last week.
From the start, the kids attached very quickly to me after learning that I could speak Chinese. The very first day, Lily dubbed me the “Pikachu” 老师 (teacher), James as 土豆 老师 (potato teacher), Youlim as 딸기 선생님 (strawberry teacher), and Brock as “Broccoli”. The other students really attached to James’ name in particular. Because of this class, I’m sure Youlim and Brock now know how to say potato in Mandarin.
The kids would fight over where I sat and called me over to their table and pleaded with me to play the games with them. It was the sweetest thing! Unfortunately, this came at the price of losing a bit of our authority with them. Matthew told me that I seemed less like a teacher and more like a 姐姐 (older sister). Since we only had 3 days with them, not even the 4 days that we had with some of the other classes, I think I preferred this.
These kids especially must have had a more difficult time adjusting since they just migrated to Korea. Sometimes when we learned words like “apple” or “dog”, they would proudly shout out the Korean names and look bamboozled when I told them they were wrong. They’re here learning one language, and here we are popping an entirely new and different language on them as well. Their regular teacher was also bilingual and often spoke to them in a mixture of Mandarin and Korean. She was the only teacher in the school who had these qualities.
Alina seemed much older than the rest of the class, but her nametag claimed she was in 3rd grade. She lived in Russia, but at least one of her parents were Chinese and so her Chinese was quite advanced. Out of the entire class, I’d pick her as the most behaved, sitting when we asked the kids to sit and enthusiastically participating in all the games we played. She’s super super sweet and seemed genuinely sad when we had to go.
Lily was a loud child, always bouncing out of her chair to attach herself to my arm. She kept asking me when we were leaving and why we had to go.
Matthew also couldn’t stay in his seat, but instead of just moving, he kept throwing. The boy was a whirlwind mess, but he worked hard on things that he found interest in. He revised the letter that he gave me at the end of our teaching time a hundred times, wanting to make the drawing perfect.
Angela is going to grow up as the sassiest woman ever. She easily divulges her thoughts (no matter how controversial) and demands attention. However, with the quieter girls who sat at her table, she helped engage them in the lessons.
Dora and Maggie had less outgoing temperaments, but were very calm and obedient. Maggie has the cutest smile, and Dora is tiny tiny in my arms.
As the only Japanese person, Seiya seemed a little lonelier in class, but it somewhat seemed like she liked it that way. She really had a princess persona going on for her. She ignored us when we tried to get her to speak English, but the way she laughed while playing Simon Says was the absolute fluffiest!
Jordan came from the Honduras but his Korean proved to be better than many of the other kids. He also listened better than a lot of them as well. His art pieces decorated his table and he’d come up with the most creative things.
When it was lunch time and the class lined up to file out to the cafeteria, Lily and Matthew kept pulling on my arm and begging, “老师，和我们一起坐” (“teacher, sit with us!”). Unfortunately, I had to use the bathroom, so I told them to go ahead and I’d find them later. Five minutes after flushing the toilet, I walked out to hear voices whining down the stairwell, “快点, 快点, 快点 (“faster, faster, faster”)!” on a continuous chant. They had stayed behind to wait for me.
Ahhh, they’re so cute!
Leaving was hard. When the kids started distributing their letters at the beginning of class, I almost started crying right there and then. I didn’t expect them to do that for us, but I will treasure these letters for my entire life. Katherine from 6th grade pulled me aside and told me to run as soon as she gave me her gift. She didn’t want any of the other kids to get their hands on it. Boy did I run fast! Most of the kids from the last class drew us drawings and wrote us letters. Unfortunately, most of mine were in Chinese, and I can’t read Chinese. I got them to read them aloud for me, and all of them were along the lines of thank you and please remember us.
From 4th grade, Pig, a Chinese boy who didn’t speak much Chinese, solemnly took my hands and put a metal Clash Royale pendant in them. “别忘了我”, he said. Don’t forget me.
I barely held back my tears during the final performance.
Thank you Jiguchon. Thank you to the principal, to the staff, to the teachers who teach these kids every day, and to the students. Thank you, I love you, and I’ll miss you.
I could never forget you.
Just a Little Divergence
Over the weekend, we took a trip to Goseong, about two hours away from Seoul. It’s one of the northernmost cities in South Korea and and another area near the DMZ, right beside the sea. The views were beautiful, with the mountain to one side and the ocean on the other. Our visit comprised of touring the DMZ museum and learning more about the violence that permeates the area as well as participating in a little cultural immersion program. Our professors partnered up with Kyungdong University to give us a traditional Korean cooking class. We also went on a hike in a nearby national park, breathing in the fresh mountain air and natural sights, and walked along a stretch of rocky beach. It was a relaxing and enjoyable trip.
Alina’s Letter (she actually wrote it in English, good job!)
Last Day of English Camp at Jiguchon
Katherine’s Gift, a Cute Panda!
Lily’s drawing: Potato Teacher, Pikachu Teacher, Me, Strawberry Teacher, Broccoli (?)
Lily’s Letter: “Dear Pikachu Teacher, thank you for teaching me English for 4 days. Please please remember me. I fnot, I will hit you <3”
Matthew’s Letter (it looks like his teacher wrote the Chinese haha)
Barbed Wire Fences
DMZ Museum Garden
Our Gimbap and Tteokbokki
Overlooking North Korea