The Korean school calendar works differently than in the states. The new school year starts in March, takes a summer hiatus for a month and then starts back up at the end of August until the end of December. Winter’s month-long break ends in February with two weeks of (seemingly pointless) school, two weeks of spring break, and then the new school year starts again.
Every native English teacher in the public school system should complete two weeks of camp during each break. I am currently finishing up my sixth camp as a native English teacher.
Unlike the regular curriculum, camp is an opportuity for teachers to be more creative in lessons in a laidback setting. Students won’t be memorizing vocabulary or drilling textbook phrases; they learn English and culture by doing hands-on activities. It is also an opportunity to get to know individual students. During the school year, I’ll only see each student for 40 minutes per week. In camp, however, I see them for 20 hours. My goal is for the students to be immersed in English and learn through cultural activites. Through these activities, students can gain positive feelings toward learning English and carry it into the classroom. I also want students to relax because they always complain about being tired, hungry, and bored from their hours of daily studying in school and academies.
This year, I was lucky enough to have some of the most motivated and well-behaved fourth graders at my main school. Even thoug the students are wonderful, it would be a lie if I said it is easy. Camp takes hours of brainstorming and preparing teaching materials, making and shopping for items (we get a pretty large budget), and executing the camp can be tiresome. Even though it takes more preparation, I’d rather do camp over regular classes any day. The time goes by quickly and I enjoy seeing the students freak out of excitement. I’ll write about a few of my favorite activities.
Koreans know about Halloween, but they barely celebrate it. Wanting to give the joy of trick-or-treating to my youngsters, I brought Halloween to the classroom. After learning about Halloween customs and vocabulary, students made their costumes by making masks from paper plates while listening to spooky music. Not surprisingly, there were some excellent and creative masks. All Korean students seem naturally to be talented in art, but the culture doesn’t seem to put much emphasis on artistic expression (a shame). Adam happened to be visiting my school one day, so he sported a costume with me. Students then decorated their personal candy bags and had a mummy-wrapping contest with toilet paper. After having a few laughs, it was finally time to go trick-or-treating! Each group had their own “house” in a classroom. One group at a time would knock on each door to receive candy. The already-hyper kids had seizures when they saw the candy, so it was a little difficult to control their energy. Overall, it was rewarding to see the students experience their first Halloween celebration.
Ask a Korean what they know about America, 99% chance they will say NYC or LA (hrm.. I would never write such a ‘statistic’ back in my research days. I’m a changed woman!). Little do they know how much breathtaking nature the states have to offer. I introduced some of my favorite parks (e.g., Zion, Yellowstone) and taught vocabulary related to camping, an activity most kids seem to enjoy. They shouted that they eat rice, kimchi, kimbap (Korean sushi), and ramen as camping food. They never heard of such a thing as s’mores. Since graham crackers don’t exist in Korea, we substituted with Digest cookies. Of course, we cannot build a campfire in the classroom, so we used nonscented candles as a flame. Students stuck marshmallows on chopsticks and ‘roasted’ them over the flame to construct their tasty treats. The students told my coteacher that they love it so much and want to express it to me, but they know little more than “good” and “delicious”.
All Korean students and faculty eat the same school lunch. You can read more about the lunches that I enjoy here. Bringing a lunch from home to eat at school or paying for lunch was a foreign concept. I showed them some typical lunches students eat in America as well as other countries. They were then able to make their own lunch to take home. The menu included peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, tangerines, a chocolate pie snack and a juicebox in a brown paper bag with their names on it. Some students never ate peanut butter before and found the flavor strong and disgusting, but others really enjoyed it. I didn’t get to see the main school students eat their sandwiches, but the visiting school students had mixed feelings on peanut butter. Some vehemently hated peanut butter and instead constructed a tangerine, banana, and jelly sandwich. They also asked “where’s the ham?!” because apparently, ham and jam sandwiches are enjoyed here. Since I find that repulsive, I guess I can understand how some of them hate peanut butter. It was still a rather interesting experiment. It’s good for them to try new things.
Other activities we did in camp include making pancakes, doing a school-wide scavenger hunt, playing card games, musical chairs, having classroom Olympics, market day role play to exchange their awarded stickers with prizes, a pizza party and other random bits.
I love them, but it’s almost time for a much-needed vacation. I’ll set foot in Guangzhou, China and Java & Bali, Indonesia with a sweet young man named Adam by my side.