The last 2 weeks have consisted of little to no sleep, humidity, not knowing what the hell I’m doing, and working on stuff nonstop from about 8:30am to 11pm. I honestly haven’t worked as hard at anything in my life.
We arrived at our camp on Sunday, July 25th sometime around 6pm-ish. Our bus driver got lost trying to find our camp, which resulted in a lot more photo ops of rice fields and mountains. My camp is outside Wando, which is at the very southern tip of S Korea. It honestly felt like we were driving to the end of the world. Our camp is located about halfway up a mountain overlooking a small village below and beyond that, the ocean with lots of small mountain islands. I’ve never been to a place like it before, very surreal. After arriving at camp we all had to lug our luggage up 4 flights of stairs because the elevator was broken. That was fun. We had a little meeting with the Korean head teachers, principal, and American activities coordinator for our camp. We had dinner and then the madness of collecting the materials for our lessons. They had all 26 of us in a hallway with random supplies thrown in bins along the wall. We each had a list but it took forever to sort it all out and there was no a/c. We found our classroom and spent the rest of the night making posters for vocab words and mapping out a treasure hunt. I didn’t go to bed til about 1am.
View from my window, Wando South Korea
Monday the kids arrived along with the craziness. We had lunch and sat through an opening ceremony of mostly incomprehensible English. We met our homeroom and then had about 2 hours to come up with a team name, poster, and cheer for our class. It was so hard to get the kids talking. None of them knew each other before so they were already shy and they were definitely self-conscience about their English. My co-teacher, Ja-Lam, and I already had an idea for everything, which helped it go smoother. They also all got English names. It made me feel weird to meet them and then right away have to give them a new English name. I felt bad, like in some way we were taking their identity.
Presenting our Team Poster
Tuesday was the first day teaching, which was rough to say the least. I was so nervous to teach for the first time. Unfortunately we taught our homeroom kids first so they had to sit through the worst lesson. We improved a lot as the week went on. The schedule for the week was homeroom from 8:40-9am, three 40 minute lessons with 20 minute breaks between in the morning to one class, lunch, then three 40 minute lessons with 20 minute breaks between to another class in the afternoon. There were 12 homerooms so each booth taught their lesson 12 different times. Basically I never want to teach directions again. My co-teacher and I were really good by the end, we each knew our roles and had a good system for getting everything done. Our first 40 minute lesson was learning vocab like ‘turn left’, ‘go straight’, ‘across from’, etc. Then we would move the desks into a sort of maze. We printed pictures of the Empire State Building, Golden Gate Bridge, Disneyland, and Las Vegas and had the kids lead each other to the different landmarks. Then we split them into 2 teams with 1 person blindfolded and did a maze race. The second lesson was really boring but we tried to make it more fun. There were 3 worksheets the kids had to finish. We went over 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc and vocab for places in town. We were told we had to make them do all the worksheets so they would have proof that they’d done something to show their parents. Definitely not fun for us or them. Our last lesson was a treasure hunt, which took a lot of work for us to prepare but the kids had a lot of fun. Overall I think we did our best to make it fun but still do everything we were told to do.
My co-teacher Ja-Lam and I
The most stressful part was planning a ten minute skit for our class for the skit show at the end of camp. Basically my co-teacher and I decided to just come up with an idea after getting no where trying to have the kids plan it. I wrote the script and my co-teacher found the music and helped with the dance. It was the weirdest skit ever. A lot of classes were doing some version of Snow White so I found one that was a mix between Snow White and Cinderella. I changed a few things and it eventually became “Cinderella and the Two Kimchi Chefs.” Every kid had at least one line to say and they all had to memorize everything. I was proud of them for their hard work. We made all the props and at the Prince’s ball they danced to a Korean pop song. They didn’t have mics during the skit which made it hard for everyone else to know what was going on. I told them countless times to yell on stage but they were still too shy. I think the skit was more about working together to practice, learn the lines, and make the props than the actual performance. It took a lot of tedious work for the teachers but it was fun.
Skit Showcase, “Cinderella and the Two Kimchi Chefs”
Every night during the week we had some sort of activity, one night we had mini-olympics. One of the games was spelling a word with your body and another was a water relay. We also did a camp wide scavenger hunt for things like American money, an English novel, and a pinecone. Another fun event was a relay race. There were 6 events. We had to do a human knot, which I ended up doing with my kids. We were in a gym with no air conditioning which made it incredibly sweaty and too miserable to be tangled up with each other but it was a bonding experience to say the least.
Taking a break during Mini Olympics
Everything was fun for the kids I think, it just required so much time and energy for the staff. By the end of the week I was totally sick of yelling “We speak English, no Korean please!” and constantly counting my kids to make sure everyone was together. My homeroom class was pretty awesome though. Some of the girls were so smart and spoke very well. We asked them what their favorite part about camp was and one of them said having a conversation with a native English speaker. That made me pretty happy. Most of them were about the same English level except for one poor little boy. I felt so bad for him all week. I think he was a shy kid anyway. He was the smallest in the class and the quietest. I made a really big effort to ask him how he was everyday but I don’t think he understood most of what was going on. Even his writing wasn’t with the other kids. Someone somewhere had taught him the expression “over the moon” so whenever I would ask him how he was he would almost always reply “over the moon.” He wouldn’t speak English any other time but he was always “over the moon.” I wish I could have taken all my kids with me. I wrote them all little notes at the end and gave them little gifts from the U.S. I got 3 or 4 little notes from some of my girls written in broken English. I want to keep them forever. It makes me sad to know I’ll never see them again. I just want to know what they’re doing in 10 years.
Letters for my kids on the last day of Camp
By the last day of camp I was ready for a break. There were lots of tearful goodbyes between the students and teachers. We had a closing ceremony and gave awards to the outstanding student from each class. From our class we chose Victoria. She was the most talkative from day one and her classmates would always ask her to translate something if they couldn’t say something or didn’t understand. I hope she gets the opportunity to visit the U.S. one day.
Overall the middle school camp was really challenging due to working so closely with people of a completely different culture, miscommunications, and extremely long days. I would definitely do it all over again.