▲ JDC English Camp students on a field trip, above, and in class with teacher Todd Sullivan, below. Photo courtesy JDC English Camp
On Jeju Island, as in all of Korea, school holidays mean one thing to many students - time for English Camp!
Whether summer or winter break, young Koreans leave home for a week or more to spend their days with native English speakers and their nights in dormitory rooms with new acquaintances and Korean teaching assistants. For many Korean students, this is a commonplace occurrence but for many at camps run by the Jeju Development Center for the past three years, it can be their first experience of English instruction outside of their usual school hours.
This is because the JDC camps, two of which were held at MBC and Jeju National University over the New Year period, are primarily for disadvantaged students from around the island. Coordinator for the university camp, Lee Seung Ju, known as Anna, said JDC sponsors all the students for free.
“A lot of the students are in lower [economic] levels with their families. Most of the students have never been to an English hagwan [private institute] so their language skills are a little lower than the average student who goes to an English institute. It can be really hard for them to understand all the English. Even though the students don’t understand what the teacher says, I hope they try to understand and communicate with the English teachers.”
She said the camp, which is her second in the role of coordinator, has 10 native speaker teachers and seven teaching assistants, most of who are from the university’s English Education department.
The teaching assistants seem to have an even more intensive camp than the children, as their duties are around the clock, while the teachers get to go home each day. Teaching assistants live in the dorms with the students; wake them each morning and supervise showering; escort them to meals, classes, after-class activities and field trips; try to get them to bed at a reasonable hour; and assist the teachers in the class. And although Anna did not discuss financial compensation, teaching assistants normally earn half or less than the native-speaking teachers.
They seem happy, however. Kang Kyoung Don, whose English name is Scott, is studying Chinese and Chinese Literature and working his first JDC camp while on break from university. “I really like kids,” he said, which must be an absolute necessity to enjoy the job. He agreed that the 10-day camp can be intense for the assistants but said that reading positive diary entries about himself and students telling him, “You are a really good teacher” make up for the long hours. “That kind of thing makes me feel better.”
He said that in his class, only two students knew each other before the camp but, by the second day, the others were already at ease and friendly with each other.
Lee Ye Ri, whose English name is Lisa, was working her third JDC camp and always looks after classes of low-level English speakers. “They usually cannot understand what the foreign teacher says so I usually go to the class and translate for them. On the first day, they felt very unfamiliar so they didn’t even try.”
That morning, the third day of the camp, Lisa had taught her class how to ask in English to go to the restroom. “When I saw them trying, that made me very happy.”
Asked about her students’ achievements at past camps, she said, “I don’t think the camps improve their English [much] but I notice that their motivation is increased.”
That increased motivation, combined with feeling more at ease with English speakers is one reason JDC sponsors the camps, according to Oh Hyung Se, the official in charge of the program. “Korea is suffering from an English division between children from wealthy families and those from low-income families. JDC camps try to narrow the gap and to give an opportunity to learn English while having fun in a real environment for those less-privileged students. I hope these camps help build the English infrastructure of Jeju Island.”
Out of 100 students taking place at the university camp, half came from low-income families and a further 35 were randomly selected from applicants who registered online. The remaining 15 were children of landowners of sites for JDC’s core projects, such as the Jeju Science Park and the Jeju Global Education City.
“The competition to participate in the camps is getting tough,” Oh said. “This year, the rate was four to one. I believe the camp that JDC is sponsoring is one of the most popular English camp programs on the island and it is getting increasingly popular with both students and parents each year.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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