Ever wondered what it would be like to find yourself fighting jet lag in front of an eager class of South Korean school children in freezing minus 12 conditions? My friend Clare's going to tell you...
An adventure in a South Korea English Camp
My start to 2013, wasn't my usual January slump of feeling guilty for Christmas extravagance and the draft through the deep holes in my pockets. Instead, I had the opportunity to teach children in South Korea. Ah…I thought, a tropical adventure. Unfortunately this definitely wasn't the case as it was more like stepping into a freezer, with temperatures as low as -12 degrees centigrade in the day and even more bone chattering at night.
I had never taught children before, and certainly never taught abroad before or visited Asia even. I arrived in South Korea with no knowledge of the culture and even less of Korean pop culture – something that I was soon to learn, or rather experience for myself.
Having had some difficulties acquiring a visa and being forced to change my flight as a result, I ended up arriving in Korea after an 11 hour flight and plunging 9 hours into the future, and heading straight into a meeting with my fellow teachers, my suitcase in tow. The teaching was starting at 9 o’clock the next morning!
My class consisted of a group of 12 teenagers who were in Korean years aged 16, western age 14 - in Korea you are 1 when you're born and then everyone increases in age come January 1st as far, that is as I understand it. The rest of the camp ranged from primary school up to middle school. The camp was set up by a university and was aimed at poorer students in the town and funded by the local council.
My trip lasted 4 weeks with teaching taking up 3. My days at the school consisted of 3 hours of English language teaching in the morning, followed by teaching an Art club after lunch and then working with my class on a different activity every week which would be performed on Saturdays. The first week, was a dance for Naju Idol, an X-Factor style performance. My class chose to do a very repetitive K-pop (Korean pop) song, as Gangnam had been band in camp due to it being over playing at previous events. Somehow, in my weakened jet lagged state I had been persuaded to join in, resulting in me performing in front of the whole school the following Saturday. I sorely regretted this agreement as I have zero co-ordination, which was re-affirmed in the re-play video shown more times than I care to remember. But my class was delight as they won the competition, receiving some class points. The second and third week activities involved performing a skit and presenting a piece of artwork respectively.
The Korean Government had made a rule that institutions, such as school, should limit their energy usage. This had been interpreted by the school, as meaning power and heating should be switched off during the day, for a period of 2 hours. The school overcame this by providing (rather hideous) brown blankets, which the children snuggled up in. The cold didn’t assist the ease of teaching, as trying to keep the children engaged when they were freezing was a challenge to say the least and one that has certainly helped my assertiveness in doing my current role as a Housing Officer, working in Social Housing.
In the final week, a local radio station recorded a set from the school to show what the children had learnt and to demonstrate their English. The questions were already set and the teacher's job was to prepare the student’s. However the DJ (an American man who seemed to have limited experience of dealing with children) had decided to go “off script” throwing the children into complete confusion, making for painful viewing. A fellow teacher, who spoke fluent Korean, also told me that the radio technician had told a member of my class that he was wooden and no one would be interested unless he liven his performance up. This I found quiet shocking as they were children and were expected to present not only in front of the whole school but also on the radio.
The three weeks of teaching flew by and before I knew it, it was the closing ceremony with the parents collecting their children. The closing ceremony consisted of yet another performance of Westlife’ - My Love, which had been constantly overplayed throughout the three weeks and is seemingly very popular amongst boys and girls. This was played with a slide show of photos of the camp, accompanied by weeping children in the background.
After teaching at the camp, I had an opportunity to travel around Korea for a week with an old friend who lives in Korea. I experienced the national delicacy of Bondegi (silk worms) provided as a free side dish to my chicken on a stick, by a street seller who I’m sure was expecting me to turn green at the site of them. However, having eaten worse, I tried a few and he rewarded the entertaining site with a free sweet bread cake, which was lovely. The last week also encompassed a visit to the Demilitarized Zone and Panmunjom, is the only place North and South can hold talks which has recently been in the news. This was a very odd experience and included signing a disclaimer that if I was kidnapped or shot they would take no responsibility for it (a scary thought). Needless to say but I wasn't and that is how I can write this account, phew!
I could write a very long article about my adventures in South Korea and the interesting experiences I had, but I won’t as the experiences are much better than I could ever describe. However, if you are interested in Teaching abroad and in South Korea there is a vast amount of information online and on the Korea embassy website.