Friday, November 4, 2011

The Adventures of Caity Teacher at EIC

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to participate in Gwangju’s own English Immersion Camp program, also known as EIC. (I will not call this “EIC Camp”, because that is redundant. “English Immersion Camp Camp.” Like “ATM Machine / Automatic Teller Machine Machine.” Not cool.) The camp is in the countryside just outside of town. A group of 30 of the “best” third-year middle school students from all over Gwangju are sent to spend five days speaking nothing but English. The camps are divided by gender, and I worked during a boys’ week. To herd these students and make sure they leave with hyper-stimulated language centers in their brains, three native Englishee teachers are brought in from various public schools to help the native Englishee teacher who is regularly in charge of the camp. That basically means that we showed up, followed the pre-determined plan, and ensured that each student was sore in both brain and body. Yes, body - they had to do pus-ups, squats or run laps if they spoke Korean. Which, during our camp, was fairly often. It’s amazing how such smart kids can be so dense sometimes.

It took about a day for the kids to get used to each other and start goofing around, but by the second day they had already established some interesting nicknames for each other: Giant Messi (the fat kid who liked soccer), Real Messi (the kid who was actually good at soccer), Grandma (something about his permed hair cut), Brother (the kid who looked older than all the rest), Monkey (take a wild guess), Super Strong Stick (use your porno-imagination), and Secret Power (another masturbation reference - go figure, they’re middle school boys). Grandma changed to American Grandma as soon as he picked up the toy shotgun. Interesting how these stereotypes can be so pervasive in the world.

Speed quiz
As with every group, there was also The Crazy Kid. That was our nickname for him, not one from the other students. The early teenage years are filled with drama for everyone, but this kid took it absolutely over the top. Everything was a crisis, and Jimmy Teacher ended up talking him down at least once each day. He was clearly extremely intelligent, but also extremely socially awkward. Personally, I went from feeling sorry for him to thinking we might be able to stem his outbursts by not paying attention to them. (Mainly because I was swiftly losing patience with him. This, friends, is why I’m not cut out to be a teacher.) But it soon became clear that wouldn’t work, and our main concern was just getting him home in one piece before he went mental with the toy shotguns. I suspect there were some legitimate emotional health problems, but in Korea, these sorts of things are routinely ignored and the sufferers very rarely receive the treatment and support that they need. Jimmy tried, bless his heart, but what can anyone really do in the space of just five days, especially when there are 29 other students to tend to?

There were many activities that filled the 60 hours of teaching time. The boys were divided into four groups - one group per teacher - to make English movies. I got the best group, who decided to do an action film. The other groups’ movies all had something to do with zombies and/or masturbation. Go figure.

Another of my favorite activities was the speed interview. Three teachers sat in the office and the students had to come in one at a time to answer as many questions as they could in the space of two minutes. And these were not normal questions that they had encountered before in their English classes. Oh no. These were the stupidest, most random questions we could think of: What’s the best name for a dragon? Why did you eat your cat? How old is your husband? Why do you hate David Teacher? Why did you steal my car? Some kids picked up on it quickly and rolled with it, coming up with some fantastic answers and even stringing some ideas along through the entire interview. One decided to answer each question as though he were the President of the U.S. Others just looked at us like we were crazy. They usually weren’t the fun kids, anyway.

Practicing for presentations
On the last full day, each student group had to present a project that they prepared on some aspect of environmentalism. I was quite impressed with their presentations. Not only was the speaking reasonably good, during the Q&A at the end of each presentation the students asked and answered some excellent questions. They were clearly thinking deeply about the subjects, and were able to express themselves in English, a language so radically different from their own. All this at the age of 15. I’m not sure I could’ve done as well when I was in middle school! It was inspiring to see Korea’s next generation honing their critical thinking skills. The Korean economy has skyrocketed in the past 50 years, and in many ways its society has struggled just to embrace their new prosperity and the vastly different lifestyle it has brought. It’s hard to fathom the drastic change that has taken place here in such a short period of time. And social constructs always lag behind progress in any society, so it’s encouraging to see this generation progressing so rapidly. Despite their goofing off, whining, obsession with masturbation and occasional denseness (i.e. being teenagers), these kids really are the the leaders of Korea’s future.

All in all, it was easy work and good fun, even if we were exhausted after spending nearly 12 hours with the kids each day. It was also extremely refreshing to hear almost nothing but English all week, and to have the kids genuinely trying to communicate with the teachers and (gasp!) each other in English. Oh yeah, and not having “hello!” shouted at me 200 times a day (I’m not exaggerating, and it gets old fast). While it’s been a bit difficult to return to the world of  “average” students, it was inspiring to spend a week with these kids and catch a glimpse of what Korea’s future has in store.