After four days of training to be ESL teachers in Korea, we finally made it to camp four days ago. It feels like everything at camp is evolving at an incredible rate, four days ago feels like a lifetime. This week I started to feel exhaustion, and began to be overwhelmed with how much I love my students.
We arrived at the camp in the afternoon on Tuesday, got our dorms and went walking around the campus before meeting the Principle and head teacher over beer and pizza. Hey it’s Korea…they drink.
The campus is immersed in a forest of trees and green amid the mountains. The buildings, tall and diverse —some look official with domed roofs, others old and rainbow colored—all seem to sprout out of the forest itself. It’s clean and fresh here, and incredibly hilly, two dauntingly steep hills separate the classrooms from the dorms.
At the camp there are 168 students, 13 of us PSU students who are teachers, and 14 Korean co-teachers. There are a number of assistants and supervisors too, a long chain of command to go through with problems, but bosses in Korea seem to be very friendly people.
We teach all of the kids our different class, I am “mazes and directions”, but we also have a homeroom class who we meet with mornings and nights, and work together with on team activities. I am positive mine is the best.
My class is shy, smart, and thinks things out incredibly thoroughly, which can be difficult because we have time limits to complete tasks set for us. But it is also rewarding because I see them playing on one another’s talents to create something they feel is perfect.
Many of these students have never had a foreign English teacher, so our English pronunciation, and our western influence are pretty special to most of them. As I look at my class, I wonder how much my own attitude and character rub off on how the class operates as a whole.
A few of the top students from this camp will be selected to come to Portland for a month to study. Some of the students I teach are low income or come from small towns, and most were selected because of their love and proficiency in English, so we have a student base which is really skilled at this language. I am able to talk to them like adults, talking slowly, but with advanced English, in complete sentences.
Today I watched my own fault of taking life to seriously, play out in the classroom. As I presented a journal writing assignment, and urged them with ways to improve their writing, I watched many close up out of fear. So I tried to start over, to tell them that this was not something to worry about, that journal writing was a way to express themselves through difficulties and happiness, to forget about the grammar and to write whatever they wanted. For some it was too late, I’d made a misstep in my presenting of the assignment. I put too much pressure on them here in Korea where the pressure is already much too high. And it was here that I began to realize how much I want to care about them.
Earlier in the day I called up two of my students to tell them I appreciated their hard work on a group project, letting them know that I noticed, and in their eyes I saw a depth of their gratitude, which is unimaginable in the US.
With my homeroom I am able to get to know every student, to encourage their strengths. Roy is a natural storyteller. Reo is quiet, but below the surface he has much more going on. In a journal entry he addressed his parents, telling them that he wants to be a movie director, though it is not the job they want for him. Riven will be a politician. Jae Young is a class clown as a defense mechanism. He broke his arm during our school activity competition. He came back the next day happier than before, with something exciting to talk about, but I see the pain and exhaustion getting to him.
Ella is everything, a writer with big dreams from a small town, and an outgoing English speaker. I worry that she is ready for love too. At the end of day four, late in the night, I left her to socialize in a group of boys, afraid for her young emotions, and hopeful that my thirteen year old student would find a boyfriend.
I am beginning to see them care about me too, beginning to see it in their eyes, that they love me too, just a little. And now, as I write this I’m scared. What will change by day ten? Will I be heartbroken leaving them, will they think I’m the best teacher, or prefer another? Will some disaster happen in the relationships I am trying to form with my class?
Now I lay in bed, exhausted at 11 pm, my day began at 6 am, and showed nearly no lulls. My eye lids are growing very weak as I finish these last lines, and outside my window, dozens of kids are yelling, running, playing games and uttering curse words in English. Their energy cannot be matched.