Tag Archives: Sewol Ferry

Slow Summer Beat

17 Jun

Life continues to be a bit strange and unpredictable in the recently altered and still mostly quiet land of English Village. As many of you know, work life suddenly and surprisingly changed after the tragic SEWOL ferry accident in South Korea. After so many students lost their lives traveling on a class trip, many schools, parents, and even the government responded by canceling class trips for… we don’t know how long.

With no students visiting English Village on their class trips, we now make our way following our leadership’s attempt to more actively engage our daily visitors.  The only problems is, during the week quite often… visitors are few and far between.  Often we sit at empty tents waiting for no one to come, or stand at the front gate ready to greet a handful of visitors.

There are still some students to be found at English Village.  The regular syncopation of my Saturday book club classes continues to beat consistent and strong.  But these modest Saturday classes teaching young Koreans to read are a tiny drop in a now quite empty bucket.

Despite continued change and a degree of uncertainty, there are still some things at English Village I can always count on. I can be sure, without fail, that if I give a package of crayons to my young book club students, before coloring can begin they will sort the crayons and put them in proper order.  If, after sorting them, they find they have two of one color or a color is missing, I know for sure that soon I will hear an innocent voice call “teacher” alerting me to their crayon situation that must be handled before coloring can commence.

I can also rely on my book club students laughing at the strangest things.  If I accidentally put the dot on my “i” to the right of its “base” when writing quickly, I know I will get a chuckle or two. Dropping something on the floor will merit ridiculous giggles.  And, shockingly, if they see my stomach when my shirt accidentally lifts up a little while describing something in an animated way, I can count on the laughter bringing down the room.  One time I even had a sticker on my butt… ridiculous chuckles.  Yes, some things will never change.

We have a small bundle of Russian students now visiting English Village.  Some of these students just visiting for a week or two have already come and gone.  What remains is the modest assembly of students here for 3 and 6 weeks. A handful them have our full attention with behavior busting boundaries on an hourly basis.  Others are sweet and somewhat engaged and ready for class.  When I see them move from class to class, the look on their face reflects a mixture of homesickness, heat exhaustion and perhaps just a bit of “English Village” fatigue.

Russian students typically visit English Village a couple of time each year.  It is undoubtedly a bit less “exciting” this year as the small group of students are the only ones on campus.  Typically they would be just a spot in a sea of Korean compadres.  Not this year.

We hear that our special programming in August is going to be hopping with students.  Perhaps after that a return to the regular craziness bursting at the seams with students.

In truth, aside from tragic event that caused this interruption, I am earnestly appreciative of a shift in intensity.  I was ready for a break from week after week and month after month of stampedes of Korean adolescent students.  A teacher mentioned recently that I look happier lately and in truth I think it is because I simply feel less stressed without teaching so many students in such an erratic schedule and system all of the time.

June weather has been kind in Paju so far as the humidity and heat continues to gently make herself known.  It is still nothing compared to the wall of heat and humidity I knew and sort of loved in New Orleans.

It is Tuesday, but also my “Friday” as I have a mid-week weekend.  It’s always nice to have a break for a few days, even just to have some simple time off to relax and do whatever feels good and fun in the moment.

How is summer settling in for you?  Thanks for reading and it’s always good to hear from you!

Photo of lush and green summer days at English Village.

Sound of Silence

23 Apr

It is quite a shock.  But… for now, there are no students at Gyeonggi English Village in Paju, South Korea.  In truth I didn’t see it coming. I imagine other teachers didn’t either.  But here we wait on the quiet grounds wondering what is next.

It all started with the tragic ferry accident in South Korea.  I am sure the news has made its way to you wherever you are in the world. A ferry holding over 450 passengers was on a regular route from the northwest coast of South Korea to Jeju Island, a popular vacation destination.  Who was on board?  Mostly it was a group of high school students from Ansan, a city just outside of Seoul. They were traveling to Jeju for their class trip. What followed is the tragic story of a slowly sinking ferry just hours from its destination with hundreds of people still trapped inside, mostly students.

Needless to say, the people and parents of Korea are insane with grief and outrage.  It seems true that a folly of errors, poor judgement and bad training contributed widely to the tragic outcome of these circumstances.

What was unexpected for me, perhaps as an American, perhaps as an outsider, was the government response that now has the streets of English Village in silence.  It is my understanding that the Gyeonggi Province government canceled all student trips for the upcoming semester.  Other provinces have responded in kind. I am told even China and Japan and considering the same.  And now schools in South Korea far and wide have canceled their three-day excursion to Gyeonggi English Village.

I can understand the compelling desire to protect oneself and your children particularly in the face of something so devastating.  In truth after reading about the accident my reaction was to plot and plan how I could avoid such a situation myself… should I stay off of ferries?  I am more than aware of the mind and body’s unpredictable response in the aftermath of a disaster.  I can recall shortly after Hurricane Katrina flooded my home city of New Orleans being in a second floor apartment in Texas feeling concerned if I left items on the floor they might get ruined by the flood.  However, it was still a surprise to me that the government responded in such a manner.

This is an event that Korea is taking very seriously and its people are still sifting through their rage, politics and confusion. The “no trip mandate” is just one way they are demonstrating that.  For us at Gyeonggi English Village, it leaves us for now with mostly no students (a few other more modest programs still operate lightly).  We are told programming for the next two months is practically vacant with no real plan for what is to come.  Our administration is twisting and bending itself in an attempt to recover or adapt to this new face of English Village.  There is talk of bringing in more international students and focusing on our one day programs which don’t require students to come spend the night.

In the meantime this leaves us in a great space of uncertainty.  Our work time this week has been occupied with planning our lessons for our month-long program in August that we assume will happen… but I suppose truly time will tell.  What is in store for us as teachers, foreign staff, and an institution is far from clear.

This circumstance leaves me in a humbled space.  While in some ways the quiet is a welcome break, it is also a haunting reminder. And so I pray… for all involved.  Those who survived the ferry.  Those who did not.  Those who are suffering and outraged by this tragedy. Those who are blamed.  And also quite simply for me and the other teachers at my place of work as we face some new uncertainty in our own lives.

That is it for now, writing in the unprecedented silence of Gyeonggi English Village.

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