Final Thoughts

This last week full week in Seoul was very eventful. We had our last week at Mulmangcho, and we went to Busan for the weekend.

If you’ve followed the group blog or any of our personal blogs, then it was pretty clear that we had a very emotional and difficult time saying goodbye to our students from Jiguchon, the first school we taught at a month ago. We felt like we had done at least something to impact their lives, but we wished we had more time with them or that somehow they would remember us in the long run. It’s safe to say that our goodbye from Mulmangcho was just as, if not more, emotional and difficult than that of Jiguchon. At Mulmangcho, we essentially lived with the students. We lived in a different building, but we ate all of our meals together and spent all day with them. At Jiguchon, we spent about 5 hours a day Monday through Friday with them. So, naturally, our separation from Mulmangcho students was bound to be even more difficult.

Personally, I felt guilty leaving. Some of the students were our age, and we spent our days and nights talking to them as friends would. Thus, when we had to leave it was as if we were leaving them behind. These students are bored out of their minds all the time because of how rural Yeoju is. While we would leave to go to Busan, Seoul, the United States, they would stay there and continue with the same daily schedule they’ve had for weeks, months, even years. They just study all day and night for their exams and see and talk to the same people every day.

When talking to one of our group members, we both felt like we wanted to cry as we rode in our taxis away from the school. While walking around in Busan that same Friday, I couldn’t help but think about how much the students our age would enjoy taking this weekend trip and spending it with us. I couldn’t help but think about how if it weren’t for the unfortunate situation of having been born in a country that didn’t have the same liberties and opportunities as the US and South Korea, they now couldn’t enjoy themselves in the same way that most people their age were enjoying themselves in the same country they were in. They were living in South Korea, but they weren’t living as South Koreans yet.

Even though leaving Mulmangcho was harder than Jiguchon, there is a positive with Mulmangcho that is different from Jiguchon. That difference is that the students we spent time with at Mulmangcho are also our friends. At Jiguchon, the oldest students were 14 and in 6th grade whereas at Mulmangcho the students we spent most of our time with were 16 and up, so we are Facebook friends and Kakaotalk friends and can keep in contact with them in a way that we never could with Jiguchon students. Thankfully, this means the separation from Mulmangcho- while painful- is not necessarily permanent.

After having left Mulmangcho on Friday, we went to Busan for the weekend. We visited several museums and Busan Tower. Busan can basically be considered the second most famous city in South Korea after Seoul, but it has a different vibe and narrative than Seoul. While Seoul is considered one of the most modern technologically advanced cities in the world- like most famous major cities it is very hectic and fast-paced, one of our group members described Busan as Seoul’s chill older brother. Busan has none of the pressure Seoul has to be a competitive capital city, and so is able to develop comfortably. More so than that, Busan was the only place to not be taken over during the Korean War. When Seoul was taken by the North Korean army in the early 1950s, Busan became South Korea’s provisional capital. It remains untouched by the war physically, but much of its narrative is based off of its important role during the war. After having gone through this program learning more deeply about the North-South conflict and its history, going to Busan seemed like the perfect way to feed and nourish all the information with the actual environment where it all culminated. We were able to see where refugees of the war actually lived when we went to Gamcheon Cultural Village, where refugees found work at the Gukje Market, and even visit Syngman Rhee’s home during his time in exile.

One such example of this culmination was going to the International Market and finding the store that 국제시장 (reads Gukje Market but English title is Ode to my Fatherthe movie based itself off of. In the movie, the main character is a refugee of Hungnam, North Korea that comes during the war and works at his aunt’s spice store in the Busan International Market. As the main character grows old so the market develops, and the store in the movie is an actual store in real life that we were able to find and browse through its products. It was incredibly meaningful for all of us to walk through the streets which we have seen so many movies and videos and read/heard so much about through several mediums.

Now with just two days left, we are wrapping up our thoughts and thinking about our experience as a whole on this program. It is definitely a bittersweet ending.

– Ana


I’m sure many, maybe all, of us have had their feelings about this program change from the moment we applied to the second we stepped foot in the Incheon Airport. Maybe those feelings are changing even now as we step back and look at the program from away and process what we weren’t able to in the moment.

There’s no denying that we’ve grown from the things that we’ve seen, learned, experienced in the past two months. Our view of the multicultural and North Korean children has evolved from faceless victims we read about on paper to individuals with defined personalities and aspirations. We’ve encountered the behaviors of these children that make them quite different, but also very similar, to the children we’ve encountered throughout our lives and listened to the stories that these behavior differences stem from. We’ve witnessed the work that is already being done for these children and have dreamt for ways they could be helped even more, and also dreamt about their futures.

From the children, we’ve learned patience in understanding that sometimes when they run our patience thin, it is not a statement of poor character but simply a difference in the expectations of discipline that both parties have had. From the older students, university North Korean refugees, and POWs listening to their stories becoming more real to us, we became more sympathetic to the stories of those we have never been able to relate to before. And throughout the entire program, both with the English teaching and the educational trips (Comfort Women, DMZ), I think we all grew to have compassion for the issues that were exposed to us.

We’ve immersed ourselves in a new traditional history and modern culture, discovered the difference in value of preparedness versus actual experience (such as, which games you plan for will actually work in a room of twenty elementary students), valued the friendships that have found us in Jiguchon and Mulmangcho, and delved into the complexity of the issue that is multiculturalism and North Koreans in South Korea.

To be honest, none of us know when the next time we’ll be directly be working within North Korean or multicultural affairs in South Korea again. But we do know that these experiences will never leave us as long as we apply it to the places we can. The passions that are already with some of us – human rights, international affairs, local Durham issues – do not have to be detached but instead be enriched by the summer that we lived in South Korea.

– Joy

Thank you to the people who made this program possible, both at Duke and in South Korea, thank you to the two professors Kim Hae-Young and Kim EunYoung who took care of us so well, thank you to the team for working hard together in the compact two months, thank you for reading our blog and commenting, encouraging us along the way! We’re thankful for every interaction that we’ve had through this DukeEngage South Korea ’16.



Tickle Fights, Board Games, and Airplanes, Oh My!

Our second week at Mulmangcho was as rewarding as the first week. The best memories for me this week are definitely from the various kinds of activities we did with the students. We made burgers for the students and ate them together, we decorated the students’ dorm, and we played games together (including a spicy ramen challenge). One activity that I enjoyed was the science activity class, in which my group – Ana, my student S, and I – with the help of MinSuk, made a model plane together! It was so much fun and also helped us connect with the students more as we need to figure out how to put the parts together, to share out the work, and to cooperate with one another. We felt very closely bonded as we successfully finished the model plane and shared the joy with each other. To me, since the last time I made a model plane was probably in elementary or middle school, it was also a great experience to revive some childhood memories.

The dormitory we decorated

Another activity that I enjoyed was the music class. The DESK 16 people were divided into small groups to teach songs to kids of different ages. Cole, Annie, and I teach the four older kids. We are going to have a talent show next Wednesday, in which both the four kids we teach and us three will perform a song. In our class, we decided to teach the students “I have a dream” by Westlife, but we have encountered some difficulties. The youngest of the four students could not read English as well as the other three, and when we asked them to read the lyrics together, he would sometimes be silent or talk to other students or simply leave the room. When Cole suggested ask other students to teach him the words, I was at first quite doubtful. Because in Jiguchon, if we were not leading the class or not actively engaging the students into music related activities, most of them would not learn at all. Yet since we also needed time to learn our own song that we will perform in the talent show, I agreed on Cole’s suggestion and told them to teach each other the lyrics for thirty minutes. At first, they were just standing at the back of the classroom, doing nothing. But soon after, the only girl in the group started reading the lyrics. S also started playing the song from the music app on his phone and began singing along with it. He shared his headphones with the youngest student, and if the latter had any words that he didn’t understand, S would patiently explain to him. After thirty minutes, we asked them to read the lyrics out loud together again, and all of them read fairly fluently in unison. I was greatly impressed by their diligence and their help for one another. I was reminded that these students have admirable traits and great potential, and because of this, I believe that they will have a bright and promising future.

– Michelle


As Michelle said, week two was just as rewarding as the first week, and it has been so nice to get to know the kids a bit more. This week we’ve had more of a chance to play around with the kids more during their down time in the dorms and again during scheduled recreation time, and it has been wonderful. From tickle fights and shoulder rides, to board games and Mafia (a heads up 7 up -like game that’s popular at summer camps and the like), we really enjoyed ourselves with the kids. During this time, I also noticed that once the younger kids got comfortable with us, they were very eager for physical contact, and often jumped into our laps while waiting for instructions, or lay on the floor to cuddle. Following this were a realization that these kids are not getting physical contact from just about anywhere, and a reminder of how important physical contact is for kids. They only get to see their parents maybe once every week or two – tops – most less than that and some not at all, and the only other adults in their lives are the teachers at the school, who try to keep a fairly professional physical distance from their students. We talked about this as a group a little bit and agreed to be cognizant about giving the kids as much physical support as they needed.


Besides the kids, this week was mostly defined for me by our meetings with two more refugees and a professor. The first refugee was a POW who was in his 80s but very chipper. He had a very different attitude about his time in North Korea than any other refugee we’ve talked to yet. He talked about it all very matter-of-factly, and seemed more outraged by the immorality and the lack of logic that he found in the events that transpired than the actual hardship that he underwent. He did not focus on how difficult it was or how terrible the situation there was, but instead on how he at the time could not understand why they wouldn’t let him leave if he just wanted to go home, and the fact that all of the POWs got sick and had trouble completing the work they were assigned because they were underfed. His talk was none the less very stirring, and when he finished gave an enthusiastic “Thank you!!” accompanied by a salute, and strode out of the room.

The second refugee had been an actress of some renown in North Korea, and pretty well of otherwise – her family had even owned their own factory before the war began – but fell on hard times when the bombing of Pyongyang started, and was forced to move to Kaesong to survive. She went a good art school, and when Kim Il Sung came to visit the school he commended her acting and recommended her for acceptance to a performance school, where she got her degree. She spoke more highly of Kim Il Sung than any of the other refugees that we had talked to and said that life was alright under his rule, and that she felt that the real dictatorship began with Kim Jong Il (who apparently was rumored to have killed his father, although she didn’t lend the rumor much credence). Kim Jong Il, she spoke very lowly of, especially of the fact that he took many women from their families to be his wives, even married women whom he fancied. Regardless of everyday life being livable under the first Kim, she gravely lamented the fact that none of the Kims allowed Christianity in the country, which caused her family a lot of hardship. She was a very expressive and emotional speaker, and it was the most powerful talk I had seen thus far. I had not realized the extent to which Christians were persecuted by the government in North Korea, but the stories she told were harrowing. Eventually she married a man who had family in China so that she could visit them in order to be able to practice her religion more freely. On her way back she left some bibles with a few families living near the border with a promise to come back and compensate them. When she returned to fulfill this wish, she found that one of the families had been taken by the party and most likely killed for holding the bible for her. She also told us about her mother, who kept the family’s faith strong, even when it was dangerous, until her dying breath. At this point she tearfully sang for us the hymn that her mother had sung on her deathbed with the family gathered ‘round, the tune of which I recognized to be Auld Lang Syne. While talking about the religious oppression in North Korea she compared the three Kims to an unholy Trinity, trying to wrest rightful power and glory from real Holy Trinity. She also confirmed a rumor that people ate their children during Kim Jong Il’s rule, and told us of workers who couldn’t even afford rice but came to work with meat in their lunchboxes every day.

The other person that we had the privilege of interviewing was Professor Jae Cheon Lim, an expert on North Korean issues, especially the North Korean government and economic entities. For lack of space in this already long post I’ll encourage you to read his quite fascinating work on your own (especially recommended are his papers on the North Korean patriarchal elite and Entrepreneurship in North Korea).

On Friday we took an excursion to the tomb of King Sejong, who created the Hangul alphabet, the Silleuksa temple, the birthplace of Empress Myeongseong, and a market/exhibition space of the famous Yeoju pottery and ceramics industry. At the Empress’ birthplace we also tried on some traditional Hanboks and took pictures.

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KakaoTalk_Photo_2016-07-11-00-30-02_15   KakaoTalk_Photo_2016-07-11-00-30-00_20   KakaoTalk_Photo_2016-07-11-00-29-53_56

P.s. In other news, the puppies opened their eyes this week!


– Cole

Start of a New Chapter: 물망초

On the 27th of June, we left Hongdae and the convenience of city life, taking an hour and a half bus ride to Yeoju, one of the top rice producing areas in Korea. After we got off the bus, we took a taxi to the Mulmangcho school, which is 20 minutes away from the city of Yeoju. The school is surrounded by hills and rice fields, and it was a refreshing change of pace from crowded Hongdae area to peaceful and tranquil countryside. Founded in 2012, Mulmangcho school is an alternative school for North Korean refugee children. As a boarding school, the school currently has 16 students living in the dorms. Elementary to Middle school age students attend local public schools and return to Mulmangcho in the afternoon. However, High school age students remain at the school to study for the Korean GED test.

Here at Mulmangcho, we teach the older students in the morning since they are the only ones available. In the afternoon, we teach all 16 of the students doing art, music, science, sports, etc. Because there are only 6 students in the morning, most of the teaching happens 1 on 1 or 2 on 1. Personally, I am teaching a students with Cole as my partner. Because our student knows enough English to talk to us in English, we usually focus on her speaking ability and grammar.

I noticed that kids at Mulmangcho are all well-behaved. As I teach them, I can tell that they really want to learn from us. Although the boys horse around with each other, they look after the younger ones like they are their own brothers. Mulmangcho being a boarding school helps us in getting to know the students. The students are always around from breakfast to late at night. With the students here, I’ve played board games, played sports such as soccer, ping-pong, and badminton, took long walks around the school, and had late night snacks. Also, recreation classes that Mulmangcho headquarter planned for us were effective in getting us and the students closer.

Our time in Yeoju has also been a bonding time for us DESK 2016 members. Now that we can’t go exploring Seoul like we used to in Hongdae, we are always around each other. School cleaning time, which entails emptying the chicken coop and sweeping the gym, etc, has become a team building exercise. At Mulmangcho, every day has been rewarding.

Last thing I want to talk about is our discussion with a South Korean POW who was held captive in North Korea for 50 years. He talked about how he was forced to work at the coal mines for decades. Although coal miners is one of the highest paying jobs in North Korea as it takes toll on the body, according to the speaker, the NK government doesn’t actually pay the miners because of financial difficulty. When asked about his most difficult time in North Korea, he said that when his children were discriminated against at their schools because of his POW status, and when they blamed him for the difficulty that they faced, he felt horrible about himself. He added that his colleague actually killed hanged himself after his son blamed him for the POW stigma. While the speaker’s sons were not sent to the military because of the POW status, now that he is in South Korea, his grandchildren were drafted, being held hostage so that the speaker’s sons and daughters can’t leave North Korea.



My parents, like most parents whose kids are off doing something interesting without them, always want me to send them pictures. I usually never do, but I decided to upload two of my most aesthetically pleasing photos I took on our trip this week on our family group chat. It wasn’t until after I uploaded them that I had realized the picture above was included.

At first glance, it looks like any other serene day at the beach, with clear blue skies and towering mountains framing the ocean. It’s a beautiful picture, and let me tell you, it was even more unreal in person. My mom quickly responded with a couple of thumbs ups and,

“Where were you?”

Everything spiraled back to reality, and I understood again why at that time I couldn’t raise my arms up and let out a big sigh of satisfaction, like I would at any other place of commandingly beautiful scenery, why no matter how much I wanted to, there was probably no possible way in the near future that I could trudge through the sand and dip my toes into the crystal blue water.

Because if you zoom into the picture and look closely at the left side, you’ll realize that there’s a barbed wire fence blocking off the beach from the road. Not included in the picture, there was even more barbed wire just below where I was standing when I took this picture.


This is a photo of the easternmost point of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), taken from the Goseong Unification Observatory. The sprawling forest and the calm ocean waters laid out in the bottom half of the picture makes up only a very small fraction of the DMZ. Beyond that, see the mountains and small rocky islands in the background? That’s North Korea.

But of course, just by looking at this picture, you wouldn’t have known that. I didn’t know either until I asked the professors, who in turn asked the other professors that were touring us around, about where the divide was, where the DMZ ended and North Korea began. In fact, besides those mountains, I still can’t tell where the boundary really lies.

And that’s the truly sad part. That when I climbed up the stairs and something this breathtaking welcomed me, I could only view it as a political consequence. The first thing I did wasn’t to appreciate, but to segregate. I had forced myself to contain my enjoyment and instead mentally flip through the pages of the history that has divided the land I was viewing. It really isn’t fair.

At Panmunjeom, I didn’t feel this way because, well, the rigidity of it all so vividly illustrated for me how real the Korean War was. Because I was standing in such a political site, I so easily accepted the boundary between the North and the South that was in and of itself a political repercussion.

But did the Korean people deserve that? Did the nature in the picture above deserve that? How can you split something that’s been together for thousands of years because of three years of aggression between governments?

I still haven’t replied to my mom. Maybe I’ll tell her in a couple of days, or maybe never, but I do hope that unlike me, she has a chance to see the picture without all the historical filters blurring it.




Looking Back and Looking Forward

When I was in elementary school, I’m pretty sure I thought that my teachers knew everything. I’m not sure if our Jiguchon students felt that way about us, but they definitely had a lot of questions to ask us. “Teacher, what is that?” “Teacher, what are we doing?” “Teacher, what does that mean?” “Teacher… what?” We did have answers to those questions (when they were asked in a language that we understood), but as we finished our time at Jiguchon, we found that we were the ones doing the questioning.

At our group meetings the past two weeks, many of us expressed doubts about the impact of our service in this community. As a group of untrained teachers who were often unable to completely control our larger classes, we wondered if we were undoing standards of discipline at the school. When the students didn’t understand or simply weren’t interested in the topics that we were trying to teach them, we became frustrated with our inability to engage them in learning. As our time at Jiguchon came to a close, we began to think about the brevity of our service there and how little we really had time to do. Would that shy student have opened up if we had had just another week with her? Would that rowdy student have begun to listen if we had been able to give him more individualized attention over a long period of time? It seemed like just as soon as we started to figure out what we were doing at Jiguchon, we left it. In the bigger picture, what role were we playing as foreigners in this community? Would the students be better served by someone more intimately familiar with their situation who could stay for a longer period of time?

Leigh and Chan Min

At the DukeEngage Academy, we spent a lot of time discussing the ethics of civic engagement and foreign service, so we felt that we were mentally prepared for our program before we left. However, many of us had been planning to participate in a DukeEngage program for months or even years, and we found our critiques difficult to reconcile with the idealized vision of civic engagement that we had held for so long. Even those of us who had participated in similar programs before and “knew what to expect” voiced similar doubts and concerns.

Justin and Students

As we continued to ask these questions of ourselves, we discussed them with each other, our professors, and past participants of DukeEngage programs. As it turns out, we were not alone in our concerns. Even DukeEngagers who had previously given glowing reviews of their summers in the program revealed that they too had questioned and critiqued their own service work. As one friend of mine put it, “I think if you’re not questioning your program or DukeEngage at one point, you’re doing something wrong.” DukeEngage is all about tackling a problem, but it’s also about understanding that these problems can’t be tackled in the span of several weeks. Rather, it allows us to see things that we otherwise miss, problems both in the world itself and in the way that we view it. When we see, we question, and these questions lead to the possibility for answers that we can find as we continue our education and beyond.

As we discussed some of these questions in our last group meeting, one of our group members brought up a good point – while we may question the scale of our impact as teachers, we do know that the personal connections we formed with our students, even for just this brief time period, were genuine. On Tuesday, as we exchanged tearful goodbyes with our students before leaving the Jiguchon School, we felt those connections more keenly than ever. Now, as we refocus our efforts and attention toward our next destination, the Mulmangcho School, we are optimistic about the relationships we can form with those in this new community. But if there’s one thing of which we can be certain, it’s that we’re going to keep questioning – and that’s a good thing.


Our Group and Jiguchon Teacher


After an emotional goodbye at Jiguchon, our week started off very heavy. We attended a “Wednesday Demonstration” outside of the Japanese embassy led by a group of protestors who have been protesting for more than 1,000 consecutive Wednesdays. These vehement and unrelenting protestors have been demanding that the Japanese government recognize, take responsibility for, and pay reparations for the human atrocity that was the Comfort Woman system during World War II.

Comfort women were Korean women and girls who had been abducted, kidnapped, or trafficked into Japanese government sponsored Comfort Stations, where Japanese soldiers would form lines to sexually assault these women and young girls. Since the end of WWII, the Japanese government has systematically denied and tried to erase these violations of human rights from their history (along with the Rape and Massacre of Nanjing), and in general the Japanese war crimes are not well-known among the general populous of America.

The demonstration was very moving, there was even a halmoni (what they refer to surviving comfort women as) there, and we watched as demonstrators gave speeches, sang songs, and danced. Afterwards, we visited the Comfort Women museum, located near our Guesthouse. The museum was actually a converted apartment space, personally donated by someone. It was very interesting, and revealed a lot of information that I had never learned before in any history class I had ever taken. The museum wasn’t only restricted to the atrocities committed against Korean women however, and also included a section for the Vietnamese women who the Koreans subjected towards them during their involvement in the Vietnamese war.

What is really shocking about this is that how such a large human rights issue can be just swept underneath a rug. The museum for this was located in a very secluded area, and is not well advertised. I would think that something so tragic would have been commemorated and remembered in a much more visible way. Our group discussed this issue, and many agreed that this issue only is truly visible if you are looking for it.

On Thursday we visited the office of the Mulmangcho school in Seoul. We were able to meet the chairwoman of the foundation and much of the staff that makes operating the school in Yeoju possible. We watched a presentation and were able to ask questions about the students and expectations; something that we learned would be very helpful from our experience at Jiguchon. We are heading out to Yeoju tomorrow and are all looking forward to it! 🙂

The next day, we got to visit the Korean Broadcasting Station near the National Assembly. We got a tour of the station and were able to see many different news and drama sets which was super cool. We also met with a reporter, Mr. Keum, who has made many documentaries on North Korea (he has visited 10 times). Our conversation with him was very enlightening, and we got to learn a lot about the process of visiting and interviewing North Koreans. He was very genuine with his answers and everyone in our group agreed he was an admirable and sweet man. (Also we got to go to the Music Bank rehearsal and we saw Taemin and it was crazy cool thank you Mr. Keum!)

This week was more of transitional one, ending Jiguchon was hard, but this time gave us space to reset and focus on the future, while taking our experiences from the past with us. Although we will all miss our students and the bustling streets of Seoul, we are very excited to see what awaits us in Yeoju.


Week 4: Jiguchon, Near and Dear

The third and final full week of teaching showed several bumps in the road:

  • finding creative variety in presenting material,
  • increasing informality in student-teacher relationship from getting to know them a bit more through conversation and extracurriculars, leading to possible lack of discipline or respect during classroom time,
  • general atmosphere of raised energy among the students, leading to a distracted learning environment. Some students were the opposite, having lowered energy, which led to the same consequences of being distracted.

Thankfully, there were things that encouraged us along the way: 

  • by getting closer to the students and building relationships, that encouraged some of them to pay attention during class and hear what we have to say,
  • when classroom techniques and patterns work after an entire class period of not being able to capture the attention of the majority of the class there was a major sense of relief, 
  • trying something new not knowing whether it would appeal to the students and it turns out that they really enjoyed it and followed along gave us happiness,
  • acts of kindness from students to other students or to teachers,
  • involvement from students who are usually reluctant to join in class activities really put a smile on our faces.

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One of the things that we have most struggled with at Jiguchon has been the general communication and expectations with the teachers and administration of the school. As a group, we focused on our expectations and work with the kids at the school. Leading up to and during our experience at Jiguchon, our goals were centered on what we believed was necessary for us to do to make sure the kids had a meaningful and educational experience. Our role as teachers made us focus on what level of English proficiency the kids were at and how we could help them improve it while at the same time making meaningful connections with the kids. Now, reflecting on our experience, and with only 2 more days at the school, one of the things that a lot of the group has become frustrated with has been the lack of communication with the school about what they thought to be best for the children.
           We came into the school only knowing that they had divided the students into four proficiency levels, and the only information we knew about the teaching structure of the school came from shadowing a total of 4 classes in the expanse of 2 days before we started working there. We had no idea what the students had already learned or what they needed to work on within those proficiency levels. Now, we also realize we had no idea what the school wanted us to teach the students or do with the students outside of academics. While I don’t believe the lack of communication between us and the school inhibited us from forming good relationships with the students or helping them academically, it would have made our experience and communication with the faculty a lot more productive. We understand that this is only the 2nd year that Jiguchon has allowed DukeEngage to work with them and not every detail would have been worked out yet between both parties. So, we wish their expectations of us would have been more clear from the beginning. It is something that would be incredibly useful and essential for the next DESK class to work out prior to working at Jiguchon or at any other school they work at in future years.
Overall, though, we are so grateful for the help that Jiguchon faculty provided during our time in teaching. When times leading the classroom were tough, volunteer teachers came to help and we weren’t too overwhelmed. Organizing an English camp in the middle of their normal school routine is difficult, we realize that, and Jiguchon faculty really facilitated the process and allowed for DESK to work there. We have seen a small glimpse of the hard work that these teachers do for the Jiguchon students. For these students that we’ve come to love after a month, we are grateful for the work that these teachers do for them.

          Lastly, our time at Jiguchon is coming to an end on Tuesday, so we felt that this week’s group meeting should address the topic of saying goodbye. We have a total of 15 teaching days at Jiguchon, and yet when individually asked to talk about how they wish to say goodbye two of our group members started to cry (♥). It is clear that the quantity of time spent does not necessarily have anything to do with the quality time spent together as our experience has become more meaningful than a fortnight’s worth of teaching experiences. It was saddening in our discussion to realize that most of the students would not remember us at all. We realized that, while we feel incredibly impacted by our experience, most of the students will look back on these 3 weeks and just think of it as a fun English Camp at their school.
          At the same time, we’ve come to see that what a lot of these kids need the most is genuine love and attention. We notice that some of the children wear the same clothes every day and have exhibited neglectful hygiene or build up walls to protect themselves before they get hurt. We have tried to do our best in giving them as much love and attention as possible while at Jiguchon. However, we are frustrated because we just found out about their personalities and their struggles recently and can only love on them for 3 weeks and not stay longer. We are starting to feel they are accepting and reciprocating our care, and we are disappointed it has to end so quickly. For our goodbyes, we just want to make sure they know we care. Even if they are not able to grasp the finality- or frankly don’t care- we want to transmit how much we have enjoyed spending time with them. Regardless of how it goes, it will be hard for us to leave.

Ana & Joy 

Week 3: When the Honeymoon Phase Ends

This second week of teaching, the classes seemed to become much more manageable than the first week. We got to know the students better, and became more strategic when we did lesson planning and taught the classes. Even more helpful was that Prof. Hae Young Kim came in and taught each of the more difficult classes as a demonstration, which was really inspiring. In my class, level B, she actively engaged the most disruptive students, who usually pay very little attention, and got them everyone to participate in the in class activities, resulting in a much quieter and more fruitful class. For example, when teaching them verbs and verb phrases such as “run, ride a bicycle, read books, play badminton, play soccer, read comics,” she asked two boys who had trouble concentrating to class materials to go to the front of the classroom and mime the actions. The boys had a hard time paying attention to class mostly because they were so energetic and while in class, they had to just sit there and listen to the teacher, and they could not release/fully use up their energy. They were happy and excited to do so, and we were happy too, because when they were miming the actions, they were learning unconsciously.

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For those students who are quiet and do not engage in class, I found that there are two different kinds of quiet students in the classroom. The first find the class boring so they do their own things instead. For them, a useful method is to have one teacher lead the class, while the other teacher sits beside the students and softly talk to them (in case he/she draws other students’ attention) to make them concentrate more. The second are actually usually just worrying about things – they might have been bullied, they might not feel well, etc. A Chinese boy in my class was silently crying during class and when I asked him what’s wrong, he told me that his desk-mate spit on his drawings. On another day, another kid was “taking a nap” during class, so I went beside him and asked what was happening and if he was really tired or just bored. Of course, he looked up and did not seem to be tired or bored at all. He was about to cry. I asked him what was wrong, and he said his friend told him that he was ugly, and he couldn’t help thinking about it. So, in this case, teachers need to be more attentive to the kids’ behavior instead of treating all the kids in the same way.

Besides teaching, this week also is a week of …sickness. Five of us were sick at the beginning of the week, and three of us then turned out to have had tonsillitis, most likely caused by strep. I didn’t go to the hospital with Leigh and Annie, but then I had some stomachache and had to go to the hospital on Thursday. It was only a minor thing and I felt better very soon. The trip to Yonsei hospital was interesting though. It’s somewhat similar to the hospitals in the US, but also different in that it had a more impressive interior (a very bright, modern, spacious interior, with many decorations as well), there were many translators for people from other countries, and it had a food court, which was great. I had a lot of porridges this week, and hopefully we will all be healthy for the rest two weeks in this lovely country.

– Michelle Xu



Despite the fact that we are becoming much more acclimated to the interacting with the kids, lesson planning strategy, and controlling a classroom (not to mention the kids becoming acclimated to us), the beginning of this week was quite a challenge for the group as a whole. Of the five members that fell ill over the weekend, three were unable to go to class until Wednesday or later. Poor Michelle was only able to teach on Wednesday!

Thankfully, my English class partner Ana and I were able to remain healthy, and given our well-behaved students had little trouble for most of the week. That being said, it was not perfect. On Thursday, we ran into some trouble with vocabulary surrounding time. The students had much less prior knowledge in that particular area than we expected, and we found that expressing the complex and intangible concepts to be more difficult than anything we had attempted this far. The most difficult thing about it was that many of the words and grammatical constructions we were trying to teach just don’t exist in Korean. This was a bit difficult for me to work around because I’ve only ever worked with Romance or Germanic languages in the past, which all have some sort of equivalent for most concepts, even if the construction is very different. For example, the words “in, at, and on” do not exist in Korean, and trying to describe first why you have to put a random two letter word in front of the hour or day designated for a particular thing, and then what the differences where between in two hours, in the morning, on Monday, at night, at five, etc., is quite a conundrum, as was describing the difference between before and ago. We found ourselves very thankful for the advice to plan for flexibility given by past Duke engagers, and when the kids began to get discouraged, we were easily able to slow down and shift the week’s schedule.


The biggest problem we faced this week, however, only surfaced on Friday. Upon calling on a student who had been moved up from a lower level, she burst into tears. Upon sitting down in the hallway with the student and the coordinator, Ana learned that the student had been being bullied by the older boys in the class for being behind the rest of the class in English skills. This was some kind of difficult news for me, because in every other teaching environment I’ve been in I’ve been proud to be able to notice and address bullying fairly quickly and efficiently. The fact that some of the students were able to tease others in front of the teachers so easily was kind of demoralizing for me. So far in the trip, we had been able to work around the language barrier fairly effectively, and there had been no serious consequences of it up until this one, large, very visible event of personal significance to us as teachers and to the students. That being said, I was able to talk to them briefly about bullying and our expectations, and the coordinator came in and gave them a very serious talking to, which left a few looking quite remorseful. At the end of the day, I think the student will be happier in a class where she is not struggling to keep up, and we made sure she knew how proud we were of how hard she worked and how quickly she was able to learn in our class, and that we understood her decision to move back down both for content and classmate reasons.

The music class, on the other hand, which does not have such well-behaved kids, and this week only had one teacher (yours truly), was a bit more of a challenge on a day-to-day basis, although I did have some help on a few days from other group members and even one of the volunteers from Germany who’ve been working at the school for quite a while (sadly this was their last week). On Friday, however, I made the wonderful discovery that the disruptive kids in the class all enjoy Frozen, and for a glorious 10 minutes at the end of that class, every single student was attentively learning and participating at the same time.

– Cole


Week 2: Testing out the Waters

As DukeEngage South Korea approached, I was probably most worried about teaching at Jiguchon, a school run by a Christian organization that was primarily designed for multiethnic children. I accumulated a good deal of teaching experience during high school through teaching a writing class for middle school students, but this would be the first time I would be teaching to students not only of different grades and English levels but also to students who could potentially not understand a single word I was saying. Unlike Mulmangcho, the school for North Korean refugee children we would be teaching at for the latter four weeks of the program, Jiguchon consisted of a much more rigorous teaching schedule and environment; we would all be teaching classes of approximately 20-30 students and four periods a day. Processing the responsibility of providing informative and interesting material for these students ended up making me really stressed as I was preparing to come to South Korea. What if the students didn’t like me? What if they weren’t interested in the activities I had planned?

When we were observing at Jiguchon at the beginning of this week, all these questions were suddenly magnified. I wasn’t as worried about the students who were making noise as I was about the students who didn’t show any interest in what was being taught and resorted to doing what they wanted. As I sat in the classes, I realized that even the teachers also had trouble getting the students engaged and interested, although they were doing the best that they could given how underfunded the school was. However, if these teachers, who have already spent a couple of months with these students, couldn’t gain their attention, how could I with only three weeks?

As much as I was concerned, when Wednesday finally came around, I felt weirdly calm and excited as I watched the students come into the classroom one by one. It was then when I realized that instead of focusing so much on my performance, I should be catering to what the students are interested in and doing the best that I can to increase their participation. Yes, things didn’t go exactly as planned, but that’s okay. I had expected that there was going to be a lot of noise and distraction, granted we are teaching elementary school students. I had expected that not everyone was probably going to pay attention, but I’ll attempt to do the best that I can to develop mutual respect with my students and have fun learning English with them in the next three weeks.

– Annie


          This week went by faster than the first week. From Monday to Tuesday, we visited the Jiguchon school, and observed how classes are taught by the teachers there. All of the teachers seemed genuine and passionate, and the students were excited to see us. From Wednesday to Friday, we taught students English for 2 periods and our assigned extracurricular activity for 2 periods.

          From sitting in on English classes on the first two days, we saw how difficult it would be to teach English. Students, being young kids, struggled to stay in their seats or pay attention in class, but their behavior became noticeably worse during English classes because many of them simply did not understand the instructions given in English or because they were tired of watching English-learning videos. To clarify, I have so much respect for the teachers at Jiguchon. I truly believe that the teachers are doing everything in their power to teach the students well. However, it seems like Jiguchon does not have all the resources that it needs because it’s a private institution. Given that students at Jiguchon need more academic assistance than an average Korean student, it was sad to see how underfunded the school was. Also, we noticed that Jiguchon had a high teacher turnover rate. Even on the day we started teaching, two new teachers came in, replacing the ones that left earlier.

          On Wednesday, we started teaching. Michelle and I are in charge of Class B, so we went in with materials that we prepared. As expected, teaching students was very challenging because of how uncooperative the students were. Trying to size us up, the students behaved in a rude manner for the first 10 minutes, shouting expletives or coming up to the blackboard and writing them. Having had previous experience teaching kids, I knew that I had to be assertive from the beginning to get their attention and respect. Although my firm instructions got most students under control, there were some who just wouldn’t stop leaving the class or reading books. I’m still unsure what to do with them. I’ve already spent too much time trying to get the attention of those few, when I should have spent the whole class periods teaching the rest of the class.

          We ran into other issues in class this week. In class B, we had 27 students ranging from the first grade to sixth grade. Sixth graders being more dominant and louder, they distracted the rest of the class. They also knew more English than the rest. Realizing that their misbehavior partially stemmed from being bored, Michelle and I sent the older students to class C. Another issue we encountered is that some students leave after the first of two English periods for other classes, and we have other students coming in just for the second period of English class. In addition, the class members change depending what day of the week it is. Thus, it’s not easy to teach the students one material for a week, let alone a day. Michelle and I are going to deal with this issue by reviewing past materials often. Our Friday class went very well. We taught the students about human body parts through using Powerpoint, dancing to the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes”, and going on for an online activity. We were able to engage the 20+ students for the whole time.

         We also had to make adjustments for extracurricular activity. Annie and I are in charge of sports. When we prepared lesson plans, we assumed that we’d have access to the school gym anytime we wanted. When we got to the school, the coordinator informed us that the gym would be occupied for both extracurricular periods on Mondays and Fridays, and for second extracurricular period on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Thus, we had no choice but to merge Sports group with Games group, led by Joy and Justin. Another issue is that students in extracurricular activity group change too much and often. For example, on Wedneday for Games, we had 6 students in fifth and sixth grade. The next day we had about 25 students mostly in grades 1 through 4. The last problem we face is creating activities that teach students English while engaging the students.

– Joon

DESK 16 group activities

  1. Monday was Annie’s birthday, and we celebrated her birthday at a local Nore-bang (Karaoke-room) singing songs for two and a half hours, but we forgot to pay for her when we split the cost, and we also forgot to buy her a birthday cake. We tried to make up for it by surprising her with a birthday cake on Friday.
  2. five of us +Josh + two NK refugees that visited Duke last semester went to Lotte world. It was eight hours of fun.
  3. Six of us went to see the new movie X-Men. It was very well made.