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English not just for Jeju’s rich
Low-income families find opportunities in Camp Dynamic program
Sunday, August 29, 2010, 14:39:43 Darryl Coote darrylcoote@jejuweekly.com
▲ Campers attentively listen to Camp Dynamic teacher Addie Erwin, while she reads a conversation during a listening test. Photo by Darryl Coote

In Korea, English is a commodity. Every year parents spend millions of won to send their children to English academies or overseas with hopes that their sons’ and daughters’ future will be brighter by their acquisition of this international language. But for those parents who cannot afford such luxuries, their financial situation can be an impenetrable glass ceiling, separating their children from the success they dream of. On Jeju, Kani You, who feels that this demographic of the island’s population has been “neglected by society,” hopes to at the very least raise that glass ceiling if not demolish it all together through her English summer camp specifically for underprivileged kids.

According to You, of the 65 campers at Camp Dynamic, 75 percent were from low income homes. “I think what makes my camp special,” You said, “is the majority of the participants, the kids are needy children. We are proud that we are able to make progress with their English level as well as international manner and for them to have pride in their Jeju culture.”

In its fourth year Camp Dynamic is an intensive crash course for middle school youth in not only English but Western culture as well. During the 12 day overnight camp that ran from Aug. 9 to Aug. 20, campers were given the opportunity to live in a completely English environment with native and non-native English teachers who worked 12 hour days, through the weekends and slept in the same dormitory facilities as their students. The days were comprised of two sections with mornings dedicated to English lessons (grammar, comprehension, public speaking, etc.), world geography and Jeju education; while the afternoons were allotted to outings, extra-curricular activities and creating performances.

What further separates Camp Dynamic from other English camps on the island is that it affords opportunities to underprivileged youth that they have never had before. “A lot of kids were telling me they had their first hamburger at this camp,” said English teacher Nathan Hoffman. “These kids are from the rural area. Quite a few of them haven’t experienced what McDonalds is yet, haven’t seen a movie theater,” You said, adding that for a minority of the campers this camp was their first exposure to native English speakers.

To help ensure that the camp is as enriching for the students as possible, You personally handpicks the teachers. “I make sure we select the best teachers out of best teachers,” she said. “For a camp like this we want to work with teachers who want to give out and give in within the society that they are in, which is Jeju,” adding that a background in community service is a must as well as being creative and having a very positive attitude.

The camp, which is free for all the students, is centered on trying to create a completely Western environment for the children, with the hope of broadening their horizons and to help transform Jeju into a truly international city.

“Getting to know the western culture will help this province become an international standard city. These kids have to know, have to be aware of how and what is expected of them and for them to know what to expect when they have opportunities to go overseas,” You said.

One of the ways in which You strives to achieve this goal is by immersing the children into typically Western environments and allowing the students to learn from their native teachers and experiment with the foreign situation.

For instance, the children were taken to VIPS, allowing them to try expensive Western entrees and to learn about Western table manners and etiquette.

▲ Camp Dynamic students are keen to make the most of their summer adventure. Photo by Darryl Coote

By the time the camp came to a close all the native English teachers remarked that they had established a strong bond with their students and that saying goodbye was not going to be easy. “I love my kids,” Hoffman said. “This is the first time I’ve ever done a camp like this where I’ve spent so much time with the kids and I really got to bond with them and I really get along with them and I really like them.” This sentiment was not only expressed by the teachers, but by the students as well. Hyung Hye Ji, a 15-year-old girl from Pyoseon said “We get to make a really strong relationship [with the teachers].”

You said of the four years that the camp has been operating this year was by far the best, but she still sees room for improvement; “Next year I hope to hold more than one camp like this with 100 percent underprivileged kids.”

She stated that the reason why the camp doesn’t already cater to only the underprivileged is due to bureaucracy and favoritism. Currently, the schools choose which students will attend the camp and occasionally admittance is treated as a form of reward and given to students who have excelled academically and not those from lower income families, though You hopes next year her and other members of Camp Dynamic will be able to select the students themselves. “We always have to talk to provincial level first then city level and then the individual schools and it is up to them how they wish to participate,” You said.

On a personal note I had the opportunity last summer to be a teacher at this camp and I must say it was the most rewarding teaching experience I ever had. On visiting the camp for this interview, it was the first time since changing professions that I missed the chalk dust and the clamoring children; the ‘yes teacher’ and the losing of one’s voice from singing the same monotonous song over and over again and I remember on the last day of camp feeling as Nathan said, “I do not want it to end.”

Darryl Coote Archives  
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