Korea Reflections

The reason why I’ve been so bad about being on top of blog posts is because I’ve been spending most of my time working on this video of our camp.

Please watch it in HD since it took me several extra hours and attempts to upload!

Anyway, it’s still hard for me to believe that camp is actually over. For the past two weeks, we’ve spent all our time preparing, running, and debugging lesson plans. This is definitely one of the most tiring times I’ve had for a while. It’s also invigorating though. I’m not sure how coherent I am to write a full post, so I’ll just post some of my thoughts on different topics.

Raspberry PIs

Much of our curriculum and our budget were spent working on different Raspberry PI projects. Part of the reason why I’m exhausted is the constant debugging that we had to do. We purchased entire monitor and wireless keyboard sets as well as Google Voice Kits and Pi Cameras. We spent evening soldering Voice Hats and class time making sure the students didn’t insert batteries backwards. The amount of technology we used in the classroom this camp was unprecedented.

The goal of using the Raspberry PIs was really two-fold. We wanted to find curriculum that all of the students didn’t have experience in—since our students range in age from 17-30 and are from various parts of China and North Korea, this can prove a challenging task. We also wanted to provide the school with durable materials that they could use in the classroom in the future.

That being said, we ran into logistical issues in that the school was unable and unwilling to store and use the PI kits that we set up. Consequently, we were scrambling on the last day to figure out what to do with all of our materials. At the end, we decided to offer the students a choice after their final presentations: they could either decide to take home a PI or a box of cookies.

To be honest, due to several debugging issues during the projects, including malfunctioning hardware, many students were pretty frustrated with the Pis by the end of the camp. We weren’t really sure if any students would even want a Pi to experiment with on their own. To our surprise, and delight, multiple students took home Pis and were very engrossed with them to the point where they ignored what we were doing as a class. Although I was teaching that day, I forgave them.

Students

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, our students ranged in age from 17-30. Although you can generally tell which students are oldest, it’s hard to guess the age of students. The students usually are either half Chinese-half Korean or from North Korea. The ones from North Korea tend to be older.

Although I’ve found administrative details to be frustrating this year, the best part of camp has always been the students. I must admit that our students are not the most attentive bunch that I’ve ever taught—since they are on break and we are a winter camp, phones and naps are frequent. Furthermore, due to the stresses that many of our students have gone through, Yeomyung tends to be very lenient with student discipline. Still, we’ve been able to engage at least each student in several activities.

It’s also wonderful to see their confidence grow throughout the two weeks. On the first day, several students refused to speak in English in front of the class. By the last day all students spoke. One of my bright spots was when one of our really quiet students, Jon, who never spoke pretty much the first week, actually smiled and told us that he enjoyed programming on the last day. Another student was so excited she would yell “YAY” after everything we did.

I do feel that I connect better with the half-Chinese students due to the fact that we are able to communicate. (The limiting reagent in this is my lack of proficiency in the language). I also connect with them in that they share with me that they feel in between Chinese and Korean cultures. Most of them were born in China and some are having difficulty learning Korean. I tell them that even though I’m ethnically Chinese, I was born in America.

I was speaking to one of the Chinese students on the last day, Daniel. I asked him if he was excited that it was the last day of class. He asked me what “excited” meant and I told him that it meant that he was happy. He was at first like “yeah!” and then thought a second and said “No! It means that you’ll all be leaving soon.”

Bill

I thought about incorporating this in the student section, but I feel that Bill deserves a section to himself.

Bill was one of our Chinese students. He was probably our student with the biggest personality. Every night, we (the teachers) would come home and reminisce about our days over takeout while doing lesson prep. Someone would always have a Bill story.

I remember that when were doing the Voice Kits, he would get frustrated that he couldn’t fully pronounce “Ok, Google” and kept yelling “OK, Goole, I LOVE YOU!” He was also very strong-minded. In one lab, I was wondering why his group was taking so long to finish. I found out that every time he made a typo, he would slam the backspace key until the typo was removed. I demonstrated that he could instead use the up arrow, but he insisted on doing it his way. Luckily, his partner Daniel thought it was hilarious and didn’t mind.

In a country which values uniformity, our students stick out. It’s hard to tell as an outsider, but they have older names and a different dialect. They tend to be shorter and tend to be older than most of their peers. Even though Bill had such a large personality, he tended to eat by himself. We were confused as to why, but our Korean speaker Shine told us that he doesn’t appear Korean at all. Consequently, even amongst North Koreans, he doesn’t really fit in either.

What I Learned

I didn’t really mention this in my reflections last year, but when I first came to Korea, I really became aware of how different Asian cultures are. In America, I feel that a lot of those differences are smoothed over to the point where we are all grouped together under the category of “Asian-American.” But each culture is so different. For example, Korean culture has an extremely strict age and status hierarchy that Kelsey touched upon before. It’s incredibly important to be polite and respectful. Everything is recycled properly. Chinese culture, on the other hand, is not nearly as polite. Shine told us that Koreans consider Chinese to be rude and crass.

A teaching tool that I really took away from this year is the value of focusing on an individual student. Teaching a classroom of 16 to 20 students with low English speaking ability and varying knowledge and attention spans is difficult already. From last year, I thought it would be best to find curriculum that appealed to the majority of students in terms of difficulty and interest and that would be enough. I would try not to spend more than ten minutes with a single student for the sake of the group. One skill that I’m still working on is having the patience to work with a single student for an extended period of time. I’ve seen shy students grow in confidence and ability with individual work and I want to be better at considering the value to the individual student when planning lessons. On a lighter note, also wordsearches are amazing. If you ever want a quiet, focused hour, do a wordsearch.

In any case, there were definitely new challenges and frustrations but I’m grateful to have been able to spend two weeks with these students and now my flight to London is boarding soon. Thanks for following our journey and I’m also so incredibly grateful for this amazing team.

Signing off,

Emily

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