I’ll start this post the way my monday began: with another darned hospital visit, this time by yours truly (I’m sure our poor site coordinator knows Yonsei Hospital like the back of her hand at this point). It was for a little infection that was potentially worrying as it showed telltale signs that it might be developing further (a.k.a. the most obnoxiously petty but potentially quite dangerous scenario). I ended up just getting some antibiotics and tests and being sent on my way, soon to improve. The real damage done by the infection was causing me to miss my second to last day at Jiguchon School, which just so happened to be the day that the board had chosen to send donors to evaluate our teaching. I was more than a bit frustrated by this, but it was entirely overshadowed and mostly forgotten by the next day.
Our last day at Jiguchon was quite a mix of emotions. Sadness at leaving the kids behind, worry about their futures, happiness in getting to share a heartfelt good bye, pride in our students’ performance on the last day, and of the course the usual minor frustrations and annoyances of attempting to run a dress rehearsal (or any rehearsal for that matter) with rowdy elementary schoolers. Their wonderful performances aside, the most memorable part of the day was a pair of speeches given by Joon, a member of our team who is a native Korean speaker, and the founder of the Jiguchon organization. Though I understood neither speech, or perhaps because of this, I was able to glean quite a bit more emotional content from the speakers’ tones and gestures than usual, and it was quite powerful. Tears began to fall, and with impeccable timing the founder signaled for the students to form a huge circle around the gym in order for us each to say good bye to them individually. At first it was a little uncomfortable to say a personal goodbye to a student next to the other students, but we soon gave up on that and went for it. I made my best effort not to take too much time with any one student and to hug or high five all of them, but soon realized that while the second goal was shared by others, the first was not, and I had finished earlier than anyone else and was standing by myself at the edge of the circle while everyone else was still finishing. This gave me a good vantage point to reflect for a minute and watch, but it soon began to feel a little bit lonely, so I went back to say a few more words to some of the students I had connected with most. I won’t get into the details, of the goodbyes, but I will say that it was quite an interesting experience with only a handful of the students being able to fully understand what I was saying. Afterwards, we all broke off and took pictures (or got mobbed by a half crying half laughing horde of 2nd graders trying to get the last hug, in Justin’s case). We had planned to stay and eat lunch with the kids one last time, however we decided that it would just reopen the floodgates for everyone and disrupt the school day even more, so we left for the guest house early. Getting back that afternoon and realizing that we didn’t have to lesson plan for the first time in what felt like a very long time was quite positive, and lifted everyone’s moods slightly, although we were all still quite subdued.
The next day was quite heavy. We began by joining in one of the famous “Wednesday Protests”, which have been happening for decades outside of the Japanese embassy in Korea (supposedly only a single wednesday has been missed). These protests are meant to address the terrible injustices faced by “Comfort Women” or sexual slaves, used by the Japanese government to keep morale up for their soldiers, and the fact that the Japanese government is doing everything it can to sweep all of this under the rug. I remember being astounded that such a huge human rights issue/war crime that affected so many people had been completely left out of my education. Next we went to the museum centered around the stories of the Comfort Women, which was incredibly powerful, although the english translation of the guide had an overly dramaticized tone that detracted from the gravity of the actual material. I was also surprised not to see any kind of content or trigger warning on the more graphic pieces, such as an animated film that went through the life of several comfort women, including kidnapping, drugging, sexual slavery, and suicide. Over all, we were all incredibly grateful for the learning opportunity, but I left with a little bit less faith in the world.
The main event of the next day was a tour of the Seoul office of Mulmancho School, where we will be working over the next few weeks. It was a wonderful visit, and all of the staff were quite amicable and kind. We got to see some pictures of the kids and here introductions that they wrote for themselves, and well as ask some very important questions about the school’s expectations for us that we had wished we could have asked at Jiguchon. We are all quite excited to begin the transition by this point, and I personally think I will be very glad for the fresh air and green-ness of the rural mountain setting.
On friday we visited KBS headquarters, which was incredible! We were given an insider tour of the studios and multiple different sets, as well as some journalism and production rooms. The best part, however, was a conference/interview with one of the foremost reporters on the relationship between North and South Korean people in the world. He was incredibly insightful, and quite eager to speak with us which made us all feel very special. During the interview, he told the stories of his multiple trips into North Korea, the struggles that reporters are having getting permission from not only the North Korean government, but the South Korean government as well, which he finds quite unjust, especially since the latter is often more strict. One of the main points he gave was that North Korean citizens are often forced to live dual lives, with two separate personas. The public self, which proclaims the Great Leader’s, well, greatness, at every opportunity, and the private self, which he found often included much less politics and much more interest in the daily lives of their South Korean counterparts and popular culture in South Korea and China.
This rounds off the first section of our Duke Engage experience, which I can’t believe I’m saying, so, thank you for reading, and wish us luck with the rest.