Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Winter English Camp: Around the World in 10 days

After spending the past four years of my life in college busy taking too many credits a semester, completing seemingly endless engineering assignments, being involved in too many student organizations, running competitively for three years, and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life, living and teaching English in Korea is often WAY too easy and mindless for me. So often my main job is to just to drill correct pronunciation into my students by making them repeat useless sentences after me. This task I could do in my sleep. Needless to say I was thrilled about winter English camps! I had free reign to choose the theme, plan lessons, and I had the challenge of having no co-teacher to translate for me. Naturally, my theme was "Around the World". American and Korean students have an alarming lack of knowledge about the world outside the borders of their own countries, so my goal was to give them a small taste of the world while learning English. Plus I'm a dork and enjoy learning about the world myself so it was my secret way to be a student again and learn new information.

I always go into new experiences with low expectations to eliminate any risk of me being disappointed and so it was with winter camps. But, my 6th grade students blew my low expectations out of the water (5th grade not so much but we won't talk about that). I had my students plan a dream vacation and expected destinations such as Korea, Japan, and China to pop up frequently. But no! My students' dream vacations: France (to see the Eiffel Tower), Germany (eat food and drink beer haha), Spain (to watch a bull fight), Greece (to see the Parthenon) and many more! Not only did my students choose non-typical Korean vacation spots but they used good English sentences to explain their reasons why they wanted to travel to these locations. Impressive!

Each day I enthralled my students with knowledge about each continent. I showed them pictures from my travels which drew responses such as: "Teacher! You very richy! You travel so muchy!" On Africa day I was very nervous about how my students would respond to the abundance of "black people" on this continent. In the past many of my students will gasp in horror when they see a black face, but I have tried to be optimistic that this response is only due to shocking lack of diversity in this country. To combat this lack of diversity and prove that Africans really are okay I intentionally overloaded my powerpoint on Africa with pictures of me and my African friends from my travels. Instead of gasps of horror the responses were:
-"Teacher! Boyfriend?"  "No, not boyfriend. Friend."
"Teacher! Husband? You have many husbands."
"Teacher! Children? Oh teacher you have many children!"
"No, no. No children." (me laughing and turning red which encouraged my students even more)
"Oh teacher! Your children miss you very muchy! Do you miss your children? Does your husband miss you?"

I take these responses as a victory! If my students are okay with me having African children and an African husband than they must be okay with Africans as a whole. Africa day was of course my favorite because I have such a personal connection to this continent (NOT country). I drilled into my students where my family lives and where Botswana is on a map. I can now proudly say that my Korean 6th graders (well 9 of them at least) know more about Africa than the average American. Please feel bad about yourselves now Americans and do your research on Africa. You should at minimum know where South Africa since they did just host the world cup.

The culminating activity for camp (besides the movie) was having my 6th graders write simple letters in English to the students of a school in Tanzania that our Engineers without Borders chapter worked with and Valparaiso University's SALT (Social Action Leadership Team) is raising money for this year. I showed my kids these two videos:
The first video includes an interview with me so my students were convinced that I'm famous. I guess having your face in a youtube video classifies as fame, right?

With the letter writing activity I was once again blown away by my students. I gave them a very simple template to follow: what they like to do, their name, which school they go to, etc. However, I left the activity open. I told them they could write about Korea because the students in Tanzania don't know about Korea. One student in particular took this advice to heart. Instead of simply using the ample class time I gave my students to finish the letters he took his letter home and showed up the next day with a crammed (literally every inch was filled) full A4 paper sized letter. I was speechless! He was so shy about his extra work even when I praised him for all his efforts. This kid wrote about kimchi (Korea's national dish), how Korea is a divided country, how quickly Korea developed in the last 50 years, and how he wants to travel Africa (YES! :) ). Gold star work for sure and pat on the back to his great English teacher! ;)

These students and moments like these are the reasons why I do enjoy teaching at the end of the day. Yes, it's often mindless and I don't foresee myself teaching Korean elementary students for the rest of my life, but to risk sounding cliche--teaching is often about making a difference in just a few students' lives. I think winter camp fueled my growing passion to be a professor since I enjoy the act of teaching so much but find myself frustrated by the limited knowledge I can actually successfully impart on elementary students.

On the last day of camp my students left with sad faces to leave me which made me of course feel VERY good about myself. One of my favorite students: "Teacher! I don't want to go home! I want to study more!" Awww! How many teachers would give anything to hear that?

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