Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tales from a children’s center

So I just wanted to check in with everybody back home and let you know how my work has been going. A lot of my posts have been about special occasions -- festivals, field trips, etc. -- and while those are certainly fun, they aren't really representative of my day-to-day life as a YAV in Korea.

As you (hopefully) remember, my main job is working at the Beobdong Area Children's Center, where I teach English classes for elementary and middle school students. The kids come to the center Monday through Friday afternoons and have lessons. Each class has its own teacher, and during the afternoons they study and do homework, getting tutoring in the subjects where they have trouble.

The center has lots of really cool things to offer besides academics, however. For example, on Thursday this week, they were having an art therapy class, where special teachers come in for the afternoon and guide the children through a project. I've seen them other days drawing, painting, pressing leaves, and so forth. Monday and Friday, they have orchestra class, and are learning to read music and play the violin.

Thursday night is soccer night, which is something the kids get really excited about. At 7 o'clock everybody runs to put on their coats and shoes, and we all walk about a block down to a little tiny park squished between two apartment complexes. This is free time for the kids to just run around and play, with each other and with me, and it's one of the things I look forward to most during my week.

The kids also come to the center some Saturdays. (In Korea, school and work are in session every other Saturday, and off every other Saturday. So the kids come on their free day once every two weeks.) It isn't a study day, though. Instead, the center does fun extracurricular activities like field trips, cooking lessons, etc.

In November, I joined the gang for an exciting field trip. They were kind enough to take me with them when they went to Bburi (Root) Park, and also to the Daejeon zoo, O-World. It was a joint trip with a local elementary school, and it was partially funded by local companies.

Bburi Park is so named because it is a heritage park where people can learn about the origins of their families. For example, as you may know, "Kim" is a very common Korean surname. But not all Kims are the same. Because Korean families traditionally keep a chronicle of their ancestors and descendants, they can trace their family back hundreds and sometime thousands of years to a specific time and place. So for example, Kim Mi-ran (the Chief) married a man named Kim, but they are Kims that originated in different places. For me, this was a really cool experience. I think it's amazing that people can know so much about the history behind their families.

O-World is a sort of a combination of zoo, botanical gardens, and amusement park. We had lots of fun seeing the exotic animals on the safari tour, and afterwards got up close to pet and feed the more domestic animals. And later, the fifth-grade boys roped me into a few rounds of the stomach-churning Viking ship ride (because the line was too long for the roller coaster – but don’t worry, we made sure to sit in the bow of the boat for maximum queasiness). To sum up, much fun was had by all.

005More recently at the center, we’ve been making Christmas preparations! These include decorating a Christmas tree, making Christmas cards, and singing Christmas songs. The Chief is a great singer and leads all the kids in a hearty chorus. I tried to teach the kids some favorite English-language Christmas songs, only to realize that they are really pretty difficult because they use antiquated vocabulary. How do you explain lines like “Round yon virgin” or “Deck the halls” to kids who struggle with the alphabet? We also spent quite a bit of time cutting out and decorating Christmas cookies (both the chocolate and cheese varieties). Over a couple of days, we easily made thousands of little angels, stars, trees, and yes, the traditional (?) Christmas giraffes.

I am so happy to be getting to know these kids. They are sweet and smart and funny, if sometimes a little on the loud side. I have so much fun with them and I can honestly say I love them all!