We Laughed, Then We Cried – Yehdahm Kweon and Rebecca Kim

Our last few days in Korea have been bittersweet. There have been many goodbyes, hugs, and well wishes. It is hard to believe that two full months have gone by. Looking back, we have come a very long way and made lots of progress. Our last day at KumKang was on Thursday. We had a slideshow of the pictures that were taken over the past two months, and had a small pizza party with the students. It is amazing how close we have gotten with the kids; we were even able to see some students blossom from shy to energetic and excited. There was lots of energy at KumKang School that day. Many of the students do not have much stability or consistency in their day to day lives. Even in the short time that we have been there, we have seen multiple forms of volunteers come in and out of the school. Although a relatively short volunteer program will not solve the entire issue of the reunification of the Korean Peninsula, it is one small step in understanding the situation in depth, and spreading awareness about it. In the case of Kum Kang School, some volunteers place a label on the students as “North Korean Refugee Children” which ultimately sounds like a charity case. However, a big lesson that we all learned during our time here is that these children are just like any other kids. They throw tantrums, play games, and can be better actors than professional athletes.

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And though we’ve said our goodbyes, it certainly doesn’t mean it is the end. What we established in the two months of learning and working with these students is the very first of hopefully many meetings between Duke students and KumKang School. Perhaps the program will develop to have a structure penpal system so that the students and the student-teachers can keep in touch. And maybe the difficulties faced and mistakes made in this first trial will be fixed in joint effort in coming years. We leave with high hopes for the following summer and the incredible experience of learning from the students as much as they learned from us.

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DESK Week 7 – Anna Olekanma

Role Playing!!

Throughout our time at Kumgang school, we’ve noticed that our students, like any other kids their age, tend to play a little rough. So with only two weeks left here, Team A decided to try something new. While writing up our lesson plans for the last two weeks of class, we added a new activity called role playing. We designed our role playing to consist of different situations that the students come across in their daily lives. We would then describe the situations to the students and then ask them what they should do and what they should not do in that situation. After answering correctly, the teachers would then act out a short version of the situation with polite language and then after that we would allow the students to act out the scenes as well. For example, we used situations such as what to do when one student accidentally pushes/hits another student, how to say please and thank you, how to ask for help in certain situations etc. When we tried out role playing for the first time, it worked out better than we thought. The students were actively engaged and they understood that it was better to handle a situation politely rather than angrily. They definitely had the most fun acting out the situations and even asked for more scenes! However,as the teachers, we were worried that the children were just having fun with the acting and not actually incorporating them into their behavior. However, one day we happened to be doing role playing and while acting, a student accidentally hurt another student. Surprisingly, the student apologized and the injured student quietly accepting without retaliating, as they would have done before. After seeing the peaceful resolution of that real life situation and the change in the children’s behavior since we starting role playing, it feels especially good to know that as teachers we are able to leave small life lessons behind for the students. We also found a better way in getting the students to actually participate in class!

National Museum of Korea

From the large site of the National Museum of Korea

From the large site of the National Museum of Korea

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For this Friday’s excursion, we had the opportunity to meet the very talented fresco painter Jin Young-Sun, who also taught two art classes at Duke last semester. After a brief introduction into different art styles found in Korea from ancient times to the present, we were able to explore the exhibits at the National Museum of Korea, which holds many of Korea’s national treasures. On a guided tour through the museum we were taken through the astounding art of the first ancient three kingdoms of the Korean Peninsula, then introduced to art from the neighboring regions in China and Southeast Asia, which included the magnificent 6th-century statue of the Pensive Bodhisattva and many other ­Buddha statues. Beside each section in the museum, there were tutorials placed nearby that showed the long processes that took to make each ceramic bowl, or Buddha statue, or painting, etc. So while walking through these wonderful exhibits of gold statues, delicate ceramics and calligraphy, we were able to learn to really appreciate the hard work and time that was put into each piece and every little intricate detail. Surprisingly we also learned that it was not Johannes Gutenberg who first created the movable metal type printing press! China invented the first movable type printing technology, while Korea then invented the first movable metal type printing technology and then Gutenberg invented the improved movable metal printing press in Europe nearly 80 years later. For Professor Jin, this is an important clarification that she is currently trying to spread. This trip was definitely as nice detour from the topic of unification and just more about the history of Korea through its art over time.

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A golden crown from the Silla exhibit at the museum

A golden crown from the Silla exhibit at the museum

Professor Jin Young-Sun

Professor Jin Young-Sun

A painting from Professor Jin

A painting from Professor Jin

Gaining insight into Korean art history from Professor Jin

Gaining insight into Korean art history from Professor Jin

Checking out some exhibits at the National Museum of Korea

Checking out some exhibits at the National Museum of Korea

Dialogues. – Won-Ji Lee

The progress with most of the Chinese-speaking students is continuing at a steady pace. However, one of the students was in a bad mood and completely shut down on Monday morning. After multiple attempts to get her to start her work, we left her alone for most of the morning; however, towards the afternoon, she bounced back and whizzed through her reading. I realize that even this late into the program, these kinds of phases can happen and that the best thing to do is just leave her be until she is ready to learn.

With the older 4th and 6th grade students, we continued to review the English alphabet, as many of them still get confused over certain ones. Playing games like Bingo and fly swatter, we are hoping to fill in these holes in their English knowledge in a fun and interactive way. We are also gravitating toward a more artistic direction with the students to give them a physical final product before we leave them at the end of our program. We mentioned that we will be leaving them in less than two weeks, and were greeted by some a variety of responses. Half of the class gave us blank stares and the other half were cracking jokes about it with a laugh. I am personally conflicted about this reaction. It is relieving to see the students who were laughing about it, as it hopefully means that saying goodbye will not be as hard. But it is simultaneously saddening because perhaps it means that we as teachers, did not make enough of an effort to reach out and connect with these students. For the kids who gave us blank stares, although we do not know what was going on in their minds, I am also hoping that saying goodbye to them will not be difficult. Towards the end of the day, we had to confront one of the older students about bullying his classmate. As we were playing a game he suddenly threw a younger classmate on the ground for being in his space. After class, we lectured him on the principles of treating others with respect and how important that will be later on in life. The brashly confident 6th grader was a different person when being lectured. His head was down, would not make eye contact, and was dead silent. Although he did not say a word, we are hoping that our words reached him at least a little bit. Even approaching the final days of the program, we are still faced with both new and old problems.

On Wednesday evening, our group attended Dialogue in the Dark. Though unrelated to our work at the school, this was a surprisingly powerful experience. We were able to catch a glimpse of what it means to be blind. For a 90-minute walking tour, we were accompanied by a blind “roadmaster” through pitch blackness. We navigated through simulations of a forest, a busy road, a food market, rode a “motorboat,” and tasted some soft drinks in the absolute darkness. We tried to guess what our soft drinks were, but were corrected by our roadmaster, who could tell the differences between soft drinks by their smell and the size and shape of the can! When we first entered the tour, many of us were nervous and scared, but by the end, our roadmaster’s hearty laugh and reassuring voice made the darkness into something comforting.

The crew at Dialogue in the Dark

The crew at Dialogue in the Dark

Group photo from Dialogue in the Dark

Group photo from Dialogue in the Dark

DESK Week 6 (Part 2) ~ Drew Korschun

Our team in the KBS newsroom!

Our team in the KBS newsroom!

Talking to Reporter Park over lunch at KBS

Talking to Reporter Park over lunch at KBS

Girl group f(x) performing at Music Bank!

Girl group f(x) performing at Music Bank!

This past week has been one of reflection, troubleshooting, and projecting forth how we aim to bring the program to an end. We talked as a group about some of the problems we’ve been facing in the program in our plans for teaching at the school, and we’ve also discussed some ways we can move forth in solving these issues and making our work more meaningful, impactful, and efficient.

Some of the things we came up with that have been daunting or difficult include the following. 1) Problems we come across with the administration. There are a lot of communication gaps about expectations and about certain events we try to tell about. Also, we’ve noticed that sometimes the admins leave at (albeit short) periods of time without notifying us. We realize that some issues with administration aren’t exactly something our group can change, but it’s something to be aware of for next years’ DukeEngage groups. 2) Behavioral problems and a system of reward and punishment. We were mentally aware that there were going to be some behavioral issues to look out for, but we weren’t necessarily equipped with the knowledge about how to handle them. Team A decided to go through role-playing exercises to work out positive solutions to problems with the students. Both teams have talked about creating opportunities for rewards (candies, stickers, playing dodgeball), but we didn’t create a strict system. 3) Language barriers. Obviously this was a significant challenge but we feel like we had a good ratio of people who knew Korean well and people who could communicate in Chinese. 4) The efficiency of our teaching, or the lack thereof. Is what we’re doing working, and will it stick? Homework help with math is always going to be relevant, but sometimes we worry that teaching sections of English vocabulary are not going to stick easily, and we haven’t focused too much on actual English speaking or conversation, which we know most of the kids are capable of in the right environment. Trying to apply good teaching methods as well as the charisma to interest the class is a challenge, for sure.

On another note, Team B (Usman, Christine, Won-Ji and I) had the experience of going to the Japanese Embassy in Gwanghwamun area, where there is a weekly hour-long demonstration calling for official governmental apologies over the Japanese Empire’s systematic sexual slavery of women in various Asian countries during World War II (the women who were known as “comfort women”). The embassy was not big or glamorous, but it was lined with South Korean police who were prepared to guard it if necessary. The demonstration was not groundbreakingly huge, but it had a very decent number of people present to support and/or observe. There was at least one halmoni (Korean for grandmother) there who suffered through the experience of being a “comfort woman,” and there were impassioned speakers, a choir of singers, and people holding signs. I had read about the issue, but it was quite different seeing it from the light of this protest.

Afterwards, we ate lunch at a Korean restaurant in nearby Insadong and then had delicious patbingsu (sweet shaved ice) with Professor Kim. After this, we rode back to Hongdae to see a museum that centers around the history of the Japanese Empire’s “comfort women” and women’s human rights around the world. The museum experience was informative, but it also presented the material in a way that let the viewer try to understand the sheer trauma of the history and how the trauma lasted silently for half a century in Northeast Asia. It also encouraged the viewers to connect with the stories of many particular women and to share in their humanity through the narratives they gave.

Overall, the week was a light one for Team B, but we enjoyed working with our students. We had them do a creative project each day – on one day we learned how to draw Olaf the Snowman from Frozen, on another we had the kids draw a place in the world they wanted to visit, and we also made origami flowers with them. Math homework help was fairly standard and fairly difficult to teach as always (although learning math in a different language has been a very fun challenge for me). English is always particularly fun to teach, but we focused quite a bit on the phonetics of English and the alphabet and its strange sounds and exceptions to the rules, so we hope that it kept the kids’ interest and stuck with them.

On Friday, we also had the privilege of getting a private tour of KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) at their studio location in Yeoeuido (that’s a lot of vowels when you romanize it…). The building itself was phenomenally huge and glamorous, and during the tour we were able to see some news rooms and rooms for particular shows such as for the 2014 World Cup. During lunch we got to meet with Reporter Park, who is KBS’s only reporter who is a North Korean defector. We had a really great time listening to her many stories about her life in North Korea; we learned that she graduated from the top school Kim Il-Sung University, and she told us about her worries for her family who still live in Pyeongyang. She debunked a lot of misconceptions about the nation when she told us about her mostly (or comparatively) well-off life and her belief in her own freedom of action. She told us about enjoying college life, about working and studying hard, and she was even kind enough to tell us some shy details about her ex-boyfriend. We enjoyed a really delicious lunch of bibimbap and various side dishes, and we enjoyed what was a very worthwhile and fun conversation.

After the tour of KBS and lunch, we also had the privilege of seeing a live recording of Music Bank, a music ranking show that hosts lots of the latest and hottest K-pop stars. We got to see f(x), a girl group that is quite well established already, and we also got to see some up-and-coming boy bands, including GOT7 and 100 Percent. It was a great experience to see the dancing and listen to their live performance, all the while cringing at the screams of their fans. We were and are certainly privileged to have the connections to be able to meet the reporter and to see behind-the-scenes footage, and this day just added on to the list of things that we are already privileged in. Our hope is that such privilege does not distract from our other duties – teaching and building relationships with the students – and we’ll do our utmost to stay true to all the things we are committed to in the following week.

After a restful weekend, let’s look forward to a fun and productive week at Kumgang School! Bye y’all, and thanks for reading.

DESK Week 6: Finding Direction – Jina Yun

In terms of teaching this week, we tried something new!

First, we mixed up the morning group by switching out the members from Team A and Team B.  We made sure to have a fluent Korean and a Chinese speaker in each group, in order to maintain the efficiency of the groups.  On Monday, four of us went in for the morning class with the Chinese speaking students as usual.  Some of us were initially worried that the students might be confused by the new group of teachers, but the students did not seem surprised at all and were just excited to see us again.  The new team of teachers worked well together to support each other in teaching the Chinese speaking students.  However, despite how well the teachers collaborated, the students seemed to be in an off mood.  The two sisters who usually stick together and look out for each other were fighting over a pencil to the point where one of them started crying.  I think it was shocking for most of us to see that kind of scene between the two sisters.  The first day when they arrived at 금강학교, they were both quite shy and innocent and seemed to just want to make new friends.  Back then, we would have never imagined them fighting each other.  This also shed light on how emotionally tolling their time at the school must be.  Being anywhere from 6-14, these students rarely get to see their parents, so it is no surprise to us by now that their moods are unstable and easily affected.  However, we tried our best to make sure that the two sisters made up and that there was peace in the class again.

Second, we tried a role playing lesson in class.  We noticed recently in class that some of the kids bully each other a lot.  The kids are not only still pretty violent with each other, but have a hard time saying please, thank you, and sorry to each other.  While we believed that academics is still important, we thought that learning appropriate mannerisms was a priority for these students, and thus tried to implement this role playing activity.  We started by presenting a scenario that the students commonly see and asking them what the appropriate response would be.  The first time we tried the role playing activity, it was not very successful because we tried to do it right after the students fought with each other.  The students were completely reluctant to play with each other and seemed quite upset at us for lecturing them for their behavior.  However, when we tried it a second time, they were more willing to to participate.  They seemed to find the activity amusing and some of the kids were enthusiastic to act out each scene.  In fact, some of them wanted to try to act out the scenario with some of us, further attesting to how close we have gotten to the students during our time there.  Even though the students might have simply participated because they found it amusing, we thought that this lesson was a good exposure to appropriate responses and behavior.

Having already taught at 금강학교 for 5 weeks, we now ask ourselves the question: what is our goal?  Before starting the program, we initially wanted to focus on getting to know the students on a deeper level and hearing their stories.  However, when we started talking, the school administrators had another direction in mind, and we ended up focusing more on academics with the students.  Now with two weeks in mind, what do we want the kids to get out of our time here?  What do we want to earn from our time here?  While not forgetting the importance of academics for these students, we still wanted to provide a setting for these students to express themselves. In order to do that, we decided to implement more art lessons such as drawing, crafts, and origami in order for the students to not only have a creative plug, but also for them to have a physical final product.  We hope that by the time of our leave, the students can have gained something from us, for we have already gained so much from them.

Gaining New Insights: Visit to the United States Embassy – Usman Mahmood

When North Korea is mentioned in the United States, there is usually a certain stigma surrounded the subject of this country regardless of the context it is mentioned in. The country is constantly negatively perceived as the “bad guy” due to the closed-off dictatorship headed by Kim Jong Un and its provocative actions concerning nuclear weapons. Thus, the media in the United States and many other countries around the world spend a large amount of time on its discontent with North Korean actions rather than the prospect of unification with South Korea, a people of the same history and culture who have been split for more than 63 years.

 

Some of the group out in front of the American Embassy

Some of the group out in front of the American Embassy

Statue of King Sejong near the embassy. The most respected king of the Joseon dynasty and the creator of Korea's alphabet.

Statue of King Sejong near the embassy. The most respected king of the Joseon dynasty and the creator of Korea’s alphabet.

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Throughout our stay here in Seoul, we have had the privilege of hearing different perspectives on the prospect of unification. At the Institution for Unification Education during the first week of our trip, we were able to gain insight into the steps that South Korea is taking toward reunification, South Korea’s current and past relationship with North Korea since the divide, and the role of international players, specifically India and Pakistan on the reunification process. A few weeks later, we attended another series of lecture that provided a different look on unification such as in-depth analysis of the economic implications of unification. However, up until our trip to the United States Embassy we had not gained a detailed American perspective on unification or the relationship between North and South Korea, which is relevant to our group as students who live in the U.S.. After going through a series of security measures at the embassy located in Gwanghwamun, we were fortunate to have a talk with Daniel Tikvart, an specialist in North Korean relations who prior to working at the embassy served as North Korea Unit Chief in the Office of Korean Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Throughout the talk with Mr. Tikvart, we gained insight into the United States’ role in South Korea, specifically their military agreements and compromises to support South Korea against North Korea in addition to the role America has played in supporting the North Korean refugees who need to be integrated into South Korean society. Another major point of the lecture was the United States’ role in unification as a country that would be integral to the process along with Japan, China, and Russia. Due to the immediate costs that unification would generate, foreign powers such as the United States will need to play some kind of role without excessive interference, as the issue should be resolved under the terms of the two Koreas.

 

Statue of Admiral Yi Sunshin, in Gwanghwamun Square

Statue of Admiral Yi Sunshin, in Gwanghwamun Square

Changing of guard ceremony at Gwanghwamun Palace

Changing of guard ceremony at Gwanghwamun Palace

As a whole, the lecture was captivating as it provided our group with a new perspective, one that is often over-shadowed in the United States by the constant negative press concerning the North Korean government. Despite the occasional American bias, which was anticipated with regards to the North Korean government and a unified Korea under a liberal democracy, the lecture gave an objective explanation on America’s role in the relationship between North and South Korea.

Lunch at a Chinese restaurant after the embassy

Lunch at a Chinese restaurant after the embassy

 

 

DESK Week Five: Moody Monday – Michelle Dang

So far during our time at Geumgang School, we focused on getting to know the students and understanding their personalities and interests. However, it is clear to us now that there are a few students who consistently refuse to focus in class and distract their fellow classmates instead. Furthermore, at times a student may say something insensitive or offensive, but refuse to apologize. As teachers, we have the responsibility to respond accordingly if a student behaves – but we are also unsure of what type of discipline to enforce. On Monday, three incidents occurred that tested our ability to react appropriately to misbehavior.

1.

On Monday morning, Team A worked with the Chinese-speaking students as usual. In the past the mornings have always been very smooth since we can work with the students one on one and keep the students focused. However, one student kept complaining and did something that was offensive to one of us. She knew that what she had done was wrong – but when I told her to apologize to the teacher, she refused and stormed off instead. I ran after her to figure out why she didn’t apologize. Talking to her, I realized that she had no concept of the power of an apology. For her, an apology was just a superficial verbal announcement that had no meaning. On the other hand, we have it drilled in our heads since we were young that if we did something wrong and genuinely apologized, we would be forgiven. After this incident, we realized the students at Geumgang School probably weren’t aware of the importance of apologies, which explained why students find it difficult to resolve arguments they have with each other. Though I was able to eventually convince her to apologize, she only did so halfheartedly.

2.

There is one student who comes in the afternoon who has consistently refused to do the work assigned – instead, she would either distract other students or rest her head on the table and sleep. On Monday, again she came in and simply slept, refusing to participate in the English lesson. We clearly said at the beginning of class that if the students did well we would let them play dodge ball for the next period, so even students who were usually reluctant to participate were attentive. Hence, when the next period began and she was about to leave to play with the other students, we told her to sit silently in the classroom by herself because she didn’t earn the privilege to play. She began crying, but we wanted to be stern so that she realized we were seriously disappointed by her behavior in class. After around 20 minutes, she had to leave for a music lesson.

3.

There is one student in our afternoon class who tends to be a little aggressive when he jokes around with his classmates. Unfortunately, on Monday his joke went too far and he actually hurt another student. The student who was hurt, one of the older Chinese-speaking students, began shouting profanities at him and was close to hitting back. We stepped in before they could actually start a fight, and scolded both of them – the student who was jokingly hitting people should stop being so reckless and realize he was hurting others, but the Chinese-speaking student also retaliated in a way that was inappropriate. Instead of screaming at the perpetrator, which doesn’t resolve the underlying issue, he could have talked to a teacher to help him. We wanted all the students to know that they didn’t have to handle these arguments on their own, and that we were there to support them.

 

After these three incidents, Team A was exhausted and a little disheartened. However, after a group discussion, we came to the conclusion that perhaps we should change the direction of our teaching – instead of just teaching subjects like English and Mathematics, we could incorporate social learning as well. Next week, we will be hosting a role-play session, during which students will have to consider situations from different standpoints and understand how to resolve problems between friends and classmates. Though this may be very ambitious, we hope that by the end of our time in Korea, the students will have learnt to reconcile with each other using more positive methods.