The Campus

The Campus

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.

Top tier team captains duel for all the glory in baloon toss 2


Travelogue: South Korea part 1. Failing at Departure

Teacher training at Jeollanamdo International Football Center

I planned just about nothing before embarking on my one month trip to South Korea. I went through a PSU program worked me hard, fifteen hour days spent teaching children English, but it only cost me about a two hundred dollars to receive a trip to Korea, four credits and an amazing experience.

Though excited, I thought very little about the trip until just before leaving. This may seem strange to readers, but this is how I generally operate. I’m practically unable to travel, unless by the seat of my pants.

So, me, I’m Jon Raby. PSU English major and Vanguard writer. I have actually taught ESL before, I lived in Vietnam for a year and a half, and miss it every day. I have come to find that I have Asian blood in me, not literally, but in my heart, yes. Let’s just say I fucking love rice, I eat it daily, need I say more?

At this point I think I better confess. I have never had much of an interest in Korean culture, it has never called to me. But maybe during this trip I will find an appreciation…even a love.

So here is the program: One month teaching at two summer camps, one for middle school age kids, and one for elementary. I will be paired up with a Korean co-teacher who is a university student. I don’t know what subjects I will be teaching, but the days should be long, and the climate should be hot and humid. There are multiple programs like this at PSU, I suggest looking into them.

In the days before leaving the excitement started to hit me. The bittersweet goodbyes to my home and my loved ones, they were….bittersweet (really pulled the heart-stings).

Before leaving the US I actually decided to learn zero Korean. Not even Hi. I thought I’d rather learn what Korean I get, from Koreans. My first word: Excuse me, sillye-hab-nida. Taught to me by the airline stewardess. Thanks lady.

The travel was long, about 24 hours of sitting uncomfortably in airports, on planes, and in busses. We made it to Mokpo International Football Center at one in the morning. This was to be our training facility for the next few days. I was given a roommate, Justin, who seems pretty rad, not super loud, and outgoing and happy. Most everyone on the trip seemed pretty cool. I guess when only one third of the American population holds a passport, you end up with more likeminded traveling company.

Thus far, the little of Korea I have seen has been quiet and calm despite its reputation for being a “hurry hurry” culture—Pali-pali! People look safe in their relaxed moseys, and it has not been too crowded with bodies. I did see out the window of the bus, the densely packed skyscrapers of the city. Very uniform. Very grid like. In my tired and emotional traveling state, it brought me a kind of wonder and sadness at the same time; humanity thriving outside of nature.

The next morning I woke at 5:30, one of the benefits to jetlag. I went out strolling around the desolate facility. It was mostly empty football fields, and lots of birds and insects chatting away. On the outskirts there was mining and construction going on along the mountainsides. At this time in the morning it was 22 degrees Celsius and humid, really quite nice.

At the camp some of my coworkers have referred to me as oppa, or elder brother. This to me sounded like the German for grandpa—opa—Yup, that’s me. I like it though, the respect that comes from being older.

The training consisted of three days of demo classes, and seminars by other foreign and Korean teachers about the country and teaching there.

We were, and will be, in Jeollanam-do, the southwestern-most mainland province, which is rural and agricultural, and contains about 1,300 islands.

We learned about the extreme pressure put on Korean kids and adults in the education system. As a teacher here I will have a conflicting set of goals. At the end of the camp eight of our highest ranked students will receive trips to study in the US for a month, yet I will also be trying to make this summer camp fun for them, full of games and laughing. The true testaments of a teacher will be here: can I fully engage them while enriching their brains? Can I teach about my culture, while not dissuading the benefits of their own?

I also met my Korean co-teacher for the first camp. Aiden is the English name that I will use for now, or Yul which I will start using soon. But we can save that for next time, when we get to start meeting Koreans, and Korean Children.

Drinking Soju with two girls from University of Missouri and our two Korean babysitters