I had so much fun going through my travel photos for this post that I thought I'd highlight a few more and tell the stories behind them.
Homeroom class, Handong, South Korea (2010):
I laughed out loud when I saw this photo again a few weeks ago. Then I looked at all the kids faces and hand gestures (a few had to be asked NOT to flick off the camera), remembered their personalities, and wondered what mischief they are up to right now!
Late in 2009 I found out about the Handong English Camp in South Korea - and that they needed native English speakers to teach class for a month-long winter camp. Travel-hungry as I was (and still am) I signed up right away!
I spent a week prepping with the other teachers (many of whom came from South Africa-love their accents!) and then three weeks teaching these guys, above, as well as 3 or 4 other classes of students, grouped in varying levels of age and ability. By all means, it was a challenge, but I had a blast. I could write a whole blog about Korea -- I did write a few notes in these travel posts -- but I thought today I'd list some of the things I learned just from teaching the group above.
-Koreans know their fashion. Look at the little girl in the center. She's rocking the shorts-over-tights look about a year before it became hot in the US. The Korean fashion industry is exploding and lots of designers look to Asia to predict US and European trends when just 5 or 10 years ago it was the opposite direction.
- Four-eyes are cool. One day I counted how many of my students wore glasses and it was an overwhelming percentage. I learned from some of the other teachers that glasses are super cheap in Korea - some of the materials used to make them are produced locally. The next day, I was in town glasses-shopping - I got two pairs of Rx glasses for $60. And I get compliments every time I wear them :) So you have super cute Korean kids wearing super-cute glasses = cuteness overload!
-History matters. Surprising to hear that a History major had to learn this from a bunch of kids, right? In America, history is a subject; something we learn about. For the Korean students I taught, it was something that affected their daily lives. We'd have conversations and question & answer sessions for the kids to practice English dialogue, and I was amazed by the topics they brought up. "Why can't South Korea have nuclear bombs when the US has them?" one asked me. Uh, hard one to answer. But they kept pressing me - if North Korea makes a bomb, SK needs one to defend itself and they can't always rely on the US to do that. Woah. One kid even raised his hand to say that SK should have a second capitol - Pusan, in the South - so that if ever Seoul was invaded again, the country would be able to reorganize from another location. Let me just mention that my kids were all probably 6th grade and under. They hadn't lived through the Korean War, but it's legacy still very much affected their world view. And don't get them started on Japan - whenever the country that regarded them as a "little brother" and then savagely attacked them during WWII is mentioned, the kids get angry and talk about how much they hate Japan. Old hurts die hard, especially when war comes to your front doors as it did for many of these kid's parents and grandparents.
-Learning English is a BIG DEAL. Korean kids, like most kids, get vacation from school. But unlike American kids, the Korean students spend their vacations at places like Handong English camp, spending most of their days improving their sometimes already quite impressive English skills. It's a serious priority for parents and educators, enough so that they are willing to shell out pretty big bucks for native-speaking teachers. Korea wants to secure its standing as an international presence - not to be overshadowed by larger Asian powers- and the English language is an important tool for that.
-They love seaweed.
Some odd dishes were served at the lunch hall - fried mystery meat patties (an international staple), jelly-ish noodles, and kimchee on EVERYTHING, but the most popular snack seemed to be thin, dried leaves of seaweed. The kids ate them up like potato chips and jostled for my uneaten portion.
-Despite their differences, kids are just kids. Yes we talked about nuclear bombs when I expected to talk about more mundane things and ate shrimp and peanut crunchies (yes, this is a real thing) instead of Doritos, but most days I realized that these kids were exactly like kids at home. They formed clicks. They fought over pencils and erasers. They tried to trick their teachers (easier when the teacher doesn't speak your language) and got punished for it. They sulked. They laughed. They learned (let's hope!)
All in all, teaching these kids was a really rewarding experience. I'll never forget listening to them read Shel Silverstein with their adorable, finally getting the respect of the boys in the class by scoring a soccer goal at recess or feeling so proud when two kids from my class read essays at the end-of-camp celebration. I hope they're doing great things and having time for some fun!