Every year, twelve English Immersion camps (EIC) are held in a Youth Education Center in Hwasun, South Korea. Thirty same-sex 3rd grade middle school students (equivalent to 9th grade in the U.S.) from around Gwangju are chosen to attend EIC in the middle of nowhere for one week. For each camp, three native teachers are invited to join to facilitate. In my third year teaching, I was finally selected. Hooray! I missed a full week of teaching regular classes and packed my bag to stay in Hwasun for the week.
The 11th camp cycle consisted of 29 boys, all unique and interesting with shining personalities. Besides myself, two other teachers helped the coordinator with the activities. Laura from England and Justin from South Africa brought their own style and personalities to the table. Students heard so many accents and learned about customs from each country. I learned some South African slang along the way, isn’t that lekker? I was in the minority who spells “color” without a “u”.
At first, the students were awkwardly quiet since they did not know each other. Shortly after the ice breaker, however, they warmed up and adapted to the new environment. I was astounded by their level of English. They could listen to us speak at a natural speed and understand the first time. During my classes in elementary school, I have to repeat myself at an unnaturally slow pace, and they still have trouble understanding. Their English levels far surpass the average middle school student.
The “I” in EIC stands for Immersion. Students’ phones were taken away the first day so they could not communicate to the outside world in Korean. Facebook and Korean websites are forbidden on the research computers. And of course, students must use English only. During the first few activities, I did not hear one word of Korean. Hearing them having conversations entirely in English made me feel me giddy inside. Of course, this died down during the week as the students began to buddy up. They ran laps, did pushups, and got penalized during games for using excessive Korean. Still, they did a great job using English as much as possible. I can’t imagine going to a camp using only Korean with fellow English speakers for a week.
Each day started at 9am and ended at 9pm with breaks for lunch and dinner at the cafeteria (with mediocre food). The teachers did not teach grammar or drill with listening and repeating; rather, we were facilitators of their learning. Students participated in three sessions of the EIC Amazing Race with various puzzles, teamwork problems, and English activities to win points for that day. They worked on PowerPoint presentations which they presented at the end of camp. Sports were played every afternoon: frisbee, soccer, dodgeball, hockey and basketball gave the boys a chance to exert their energy and boost their morale. I was impressed with their sportsmanship, asking “are you okay?!” if another student got hit by a ball. One of the best activities was video-making. Four groups planned, wrote, acted in, and edited their very own short films. They were very well done – great acting, insane plots, witty humor and excellent use of props and English. They continued to impress me every day.
Since the teacher-student ratio was so low, we all had the opportunity to get to know each student. Every morning, a group of students were assigned to each teacher to read their daily journal entries aloud. I loved hearing about their aspirations, feelings and loves for their girlfriends. Another activity was one-on-one, where the teacher has a casual conversation with each student for a few minutes. We talked about everything from playing guitar to family worries to travel aspirations. My favorite conversation was with a super happy student who laughed and smiled constantly. He talked about how his teachers and parents would get angry with his upbeat attitude because he would smile when he was in trouble. That’s too bad; being happy and positive is a wonderful trait.
Another entertaining activity was the speed interview. The three native teachers sat at a table in a big room. It felt like American Idol. As soon as the student sits down in the chair in front of us, I turn the timer on for two minutes and start spitting out crazy questions. They could respond truthfully or make up an equally crazy response, but it must be immediate and quick. We had some hilarious responses, such as:
“Did you ever steal anything?” “Your heart.” The students always found ways to make me laugh.
The week was busy and tiring even though we weren’t teaching in the traditional sense. Time flew by. I loved getting to know the students because they kept surprising me with their hidden talents. There were no behavioral issues nor complaints. I felt a little emotional at the end of camp; I really think they’re special and want them to see the world and make a difference with their individual ambitions. This was only just after five days of hanging out with these kids! It saddens me to think about all of the pressures and lack of sunlight/exercise/sleep they are about to endure in high schoolm, but they will persevere.
I hope to have the opportunity to teach the camp again, this time with girls! I imagine the experience would be completely different.