I returned to Korea from my trip to the Philippines to teach Winter Camp. After an enjoyable Summer Camp experience, I was prepared to love Winter Camp as well.
However, there were a few things I did not count on. One was that I got sick. I thought it was a cold that would blow over shortly but it lingered for the entirety of camp. There were days I thought I was going to die, days I was surprised I could manage to stand and get the students through activities. (Yes, I still taught. Crazy, I know.) I went to see a doctor a few days ago and she put me on medication that’s doing me a world of good.
The other thing I underestimated was that Winter Camp was THREE weeks when Summer Camp was only two. During a typical workweek, I teach 22 classes and only 4 max in one stretch. Winter Camp was a daily grind of 8 teaching hours (which is actually 40 mins each, though they had us doing 80 minute blocks). We got a few afternoons off, here and there, but mostly you were in front of the kids. This was JUST tolerable at two weeks, but crushing at three. The kids’ awe of the foreign teachers rubbed off quickly and they got a little wild.
A saving grace of camp was getting an expanded team of Native English Teachers at our school. Usually, there are three of us doing afternoon classes but we were joined by three more of our friends. They are all from different parts of Great Britain and brought along their wildly different accents– I’m sure the kids got a kick out of it. While we mostly worked separately, it was still great to come together for lunch or work through the nerves of presentations and shaky lesson plans together.
The kids, as always, were a joy. I was given second graders for my morning classes (quite different from Summer Camp), but they were very advanced. They could read and write, and I still have a few sixth graders who cannot do that. They would speedily smoke through the textbook.
In the afternoons, I had the lowest level third graders. They worked from the same book as the second graders but were a far more rambunctious, energetic bunch. We got into some scrapes. On Sports Day, I ended up head-butting one of them quite a few times– it just seemed like the fun thing to do.
(Also, I am a big child. That’s why I teach elementary school.)
Everyday, I was required to do an extra activity to go with the textbook. Mostly, I stuck to crafts. My students made planes out of juice boxes, animal masks from paper plates and caterpillars out of egg cartons. Summer Camp crafts always took too long, so I was relieved to see the kids get through them in a timely way.
(Making the airplanes out of juice boxes took quite the Herculean effort from me! The students drank out of juice boxes the day before we did this craft, and in the afternoon, I fished almost 40 of the used ones from the trash, sliced them up and washed them. I had some help from a few of my Korean co-teachers as well, thank God. It was quite the investment, and one that I’m glad paid off well!)
(I had no idea fingerpaints would be so expensive in Korea. That and really flimsy paper plates. I’m used to grabbing 50-150 paper plates at Costco that the tiny packages here make me nervous.)
I did other activities too. There was a textbook section on music so I brought my ukulele and played “Wheels on the Bus” and “You are my Sunshine.” Another day (which was oddly stressful and not as much fun for the kids), we pinned the tail on a cat I scraped together from extra fingerpaint.
At the beginning of January, Winter Camp seemed to me and the other teachers like a mega colossus. But day after day, we took it down until we were taking goodbye selfies with our little charges at the closing ceremony. (When they heard they could take pictures with the foreign teachers, I was immediately swarmed by a crew of them who were strong enough to bat me around the gym.) I’m glad to have Winter Camp in the books.
[This post was originally published on February 1, 2015. It has been backdated for the sake of tidier, chronological organization.]