This past week began for me with a realization that I had 7 days left with my students. That was it. At first I put it to the side and focused on the day ahead of me, but over the coming days it began to burrow its way into my consciousness more and more. Did they remember anything I had taught them so far? Had I made any kind of personal impact on them? For the kids who I wasn’t close to yet, was it too late to make a connection? Should we review or teach new material? Had I done enough to merit the exorbitant amount of money DukeEngage had spent on me? After a while I began to realize that these thought processes were mostly just preventing me from being present with the kids as much, and I tried to cut down on them, with varying success. Over the course of the week we saw the biggest improvement yet in the kids’ english abilities and in their confidence, although for some it took quite a bit of nudging and encouragement. Along with this general success, however, came a few pretty dismal moments. Once or twice we again overestimated our students’ prior knowledge, and this time the few that were struggling most very quickly became dejected and flat out gave up. Ana and I could only give one on one attention to two at a time, so for half of a period there was always at least one kid at a time with their head on their desk drawing or trying to sleep. We were a little bit at a loss because there was a much bigger gap in the knowledge base this time, and we didn’t want to divert the entire class to an easier activity, because half the class was doing well with the present one.
Extracurriculars followed a similar pattern. In music, we made some large strides as we approached the deadline for the performance, but also had a day where the students flat out did not want to learn (Michelle and I ended up giving up on teaching new material and watching frozen sing-a-long videos with the kids on Youtube). Part of the reason for these strides was idea to spell out the english lyrics for the songs we were teaching using Hangul, the Korean alphabet. This was not perfect, given the lack of certain sounds in Hangul, but it gave the students a much better framework to memorize from. The most difficult task for next week will be choosing which students get to (or have to) sing in the final performance, given that some of the best singers do not want to sing in front of others, and that some of the most enthusiastic singers struggle a great deal with pitch. I think we will end up encouraging everyone to join and pushing the gifted singers especially, but we’ll see how it goes. On wednesday we combined all of the extracurriculars because there were a lot of absences and special activities, and taught the kids the “Cup Song” from Pitch Perfect. This was a blast, and through out the next few days kids were teaching it to their classmates during breaks in almost every classroom. We’ll see how it goes, but hopefully the kids will be performing this on tuesday as well.
Now, here comes the hard part. Thinking about goodbyes on Tuesday. Thinking about whether these kids will make it in a good public school, whether they’ll get a decent job or have an exciting future doing something they love. Henry, a student in the sixth grade and highest level english class, wants to be a robot engineer, and is super intelligent, as is Ji Yeoung, who wants to be a prosecutor. At the meeting on Thursday a few of the team teared up a bit talking about the fact that we’ll probably never know. We came here, took almost a month to get to know these kids and try to provide support and friendship for them, and now we’re leaving, probably without a chance to get back into contact with most of the kids. We threw around the ideas of adding some of the kids on Facebook when we left or asking the school if we could contact them at a later date, but we are not decided on the feasibility/ethics of the former, and because of the quick turnaround the school usually has the latter might not be very useful either. And then we add into the mix the fact that we need to be getting excited about the next school, which seems simple enough given the amazing opportunity that it presents, the relationships we can build, the impact that we could have, and how much past groups have loved it, but can seem kind of bleak in the face of leaving the first. Another challenge will be free time. In Yoju we will apparently have a significant amount more of it, in a place where the nearest grocery store is a 20 minute drive away, which we’ve been told might be a struggle after having so little time here in Seoul, which you could spend years exploring and never run out of exciting things to do.
Anyways, enough of my griping, here’s some pictures of the Secret Garden of Changdeokgung, speaking of the limitless wonders of Seoul! P.s. my apologies for the dense post-this week has left us with a lot to think about.
Bonus: amazing house grown mushrooms at the hotpot restaurant we ate at on thursday