Kids cross an ocean to teach in Korea’s countrysideIMSIL COUNTY, South Jeolla ― In Kwanchon Middle School’s “Rose” class, 20 young middle school students waved their hands as they belted out a song in English.
Cho Se-jeong, 15, stood in front of a platform, covered with sweat and playing her guitar. She wasn’t a student, though: She was the teacher.
Se-jeong came from San Diego with her friends and fellow students to spend her summer vacation here, working at an English camp to help students in the rural communities of her motherland.
The English camp, which ran from Aug. 7 to 19, had a faculty comprising second-generation Korean-Americans and those of the “1.5 generation,” meaning they were born in Korea but raised abroad. With the exception of the camp head, Jeong Teuk-gyun, the staff consist of three middle school students, six high school students and seven college students.
The students started the English camp with the help of Kwanchon Middle School. The 180 campers are elementary and middle school students. The nine classes, arranged by skill level, have names such as “Apple,” “Grape,” “Melon” and “Pine.” The campers go to indoor classes in the morning, and do sports and recreational activities such as singing, soccer, basketball and folk dancing in the afternoon.
During the lecture, the students looked excited. The key was to mix teaching materials, which most students find tedious, with games. Two or three teachers would organize games such as bingo, alphabet puzzles, charades and 20 questions. The fact that the lecturers are in the same age range as the students helped the students and teachers get along and talk about common interests.
“Since I am living in a rural district without any educational institutes, I normally spend my time doing nothing during the summer vacation,” said Lee Tae-Gwan,14, who is in his second year in Kwanchon Middle School. “But this summer, things are different. After attending English lectures provided by students from the United States, I gained the confidence to speak out English clearly.”
Plans for the English camp first started to be made by the students in 2005, when Kim Yeong-sik, a teacher at Kwanchon Middle School, visited Hanbit Church in San Diego. A minister of Hanbit Church, Mr. Kim’s friend, said Korean members of the church’s youth community were volunteering to do English conversation lectures in countries such as Mongolia and China.
Hearing that, Mr. Kim requested that the church members volunteer to teach English in Korea. “In Korea, students in cities have access to English institutes, which offer lectures by native English teachers, but concerning the circumstances, it’s unlikely that students in rural areas will have the same options,” Mr. Kim said. The church members immediately accepted the offer and spent the last year preparing for the camp. The members worked part-time jobs serving dishes, babysitting, mowing lawns and washing cars to pay for the plane tickets and camp expenses.
Moreover, they gathered once a week to discuss methods of giving effective lectures; they also co-produced a 100-page English textbook and made teaching materials by using computer software such as Powerpoint.
“Seeing the children’s eyes encourages me to sincerely teach the students,” said Cho Hye-won, a Korean-American who also participated as a lecturer in this program. “On the contrary, it is the students I have to thank. They gave me the chance to learn a lot about Korean culture.”
by Jang Dae-suk
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