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.