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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

English Summer Camp

Our school had an English Summer Camp for four days at the end of August.  And I want to say right up front that it was better than I expected.  I had a good time overall, enjoyed most of the time with the students, liked most of the food, and very much enjoyed the time with my coworkers.  However…

There wasn't really very much English involved; the students came to four hours with a native speaker every day, plus another hour or two with their group leader.  But the groups were big--up to 14 or 15 in some--so the kids spoke Korean even in class and with their groups.

We got there around 10:30 a.m., had an opening ceremony that was basically a speech by the principal simultaneously translated (read) into English by Ed. This being the first of one-hand-countable times that the entire student body was addressed in English.  It was the usual "Welcome to Camp" speech, though the line "Stand up and give respect to the principal" still sticks out in my mind.  It totally fits the communist prison camp slash boarding school vibe that our school gives off in spades.  (At this point Horyon tells me to not be cynical, painting a picture of our school that makes them look crazy.  I say, “I’m just telling it like it is, and if people think it sounds crazy it is hardly my fault.”  She comes back by pointing out the “communist prison camp slash boarding school vibe” line, and reminds me that they may be monitoring my blog, which sort of fits the communist prison camp slash boarding school vibe.  We both laugh nervously and once again scan the walls for surveillance devices.)

The facility was nice.  It was basically a big hotel with mostly bare concrete walls.  Standard decor for camps, I suppose.  The students were in groups of about 14, same grade, same sex.  They slept on the floor in their room, moved around in their group, went to all their English activities in their group, and probably wanted to kill everyone in their group by the end of the week.  I certainly would have settled for decimation of many groups, and I only spent significant time with my own group of 3rd grade boys.

Once inside the facility, they did not exit until the next afternoon.  They had their meals in that building, did morning exercises in that building (which we were fortunate enough to miss), and went to class in that building.  They were indoors for almost 27 hours, then outdoors for two and a half or three.  The older half of the campers went to the swimming pool, and the younger half went to the "river".  The next day (Friday) at the same time they switched outdoor activities, after 22 hours of being inside, and also spent a couple of hours at a “bonfire” which needs something stronger than quotation marks around it to signify that it was not only un-bonfire-like, but tacky and at times extremely offensive as well but with plenty of blaring music and the fumes of refined petroleum products to lend atmosphere.

But back to the afternoons:  It was the first cool weather we had all summer, so I saw lots of kids coming out of the pool with bluish lips, but they had a good time.  Like every Korean swimming pool I’ve ever seen, this one was about four feet deep at most.  Deep enough to swim without kicking the bottom if you are careful, and big enough that it didn’t feel crowded with 50 kids and half a dozen foreigners splashing around in it.  The “river” was what we in Kansas would call a creek, though we would pronounce it “crick”.  Just over knee deep in some places, ankle deep in others, and more than 50 feet across.  The staff brought down some nets, and the boys and the girls tried to out fish each other.  They brought in a total of about 40 minnows.  I was a bit surprised that they were not cooked up to be served with dinner that night.  Maybe the camp staff knows more about what happens upstream than I.  It was a shame that the weather was not typical for late August in Korea, but that’s not the kind of thing you can blame the school for.  So let’s look at the score so far:

In my humble opinion, if you are spending 80% of your time indoors, you are not camping.  And if you can easily avoid speaking English, and hear it only half the time you are awake, and it is not used functionally at all, it doesn’t seem right to label an activity as “English Whatever-it-is.”  The weather was not very summery, but nothing could be done about that.

In conclusion, Donsung’s English Summer Camp was neither “English”, nor a “camp”, and only “summer” by virtue of its placement on the calendar, which was not strictly validated by the weather conditions.

But I still had fun.

I had an apartment all to myself for three nights.  There is an incomprehensible beauty to this statement that I would not have understood before I had children.  When I was quiet, there was no noise; I could clearly hear the creek running nearby and the wind blowing.  The apartment had sliding doors with screens on opposite sides, so there was a lovely crosswind.  There was a refrigerator in which I kept Pepsi, strawberry jelly, and bread.  I kept the peanut butter out on the counter so it would spread easily.  When I had free time I read, ate PB&J, and drank Pepsi.  And slept.  It was simple and awesome, and not so long that I got homesick.

It was my first time to stay away from my family since Quinten was born.  I talked to Maxine, Horyon and Quinten on the phone every evening.  Quinten is becoming quite chatty, but still has issues with using the phone correctly.  Not surprising for 2.5 years old, I suppose.  But Maxine can talk up a storm.  And she was happy to relay everything I said to anyone who would listen.  It drags on the conversation a bit, but is so endearing that I couldn’t help but laugh.

And in the evenings, after finishing with the campers, I hung out with my coworkers.  We drank, and I did something I don’t do when I’m going to be around my kids:  I consumed more than one alcoholic beverage.  The fact is I drank more in those three evenings than I have total in the past year, though that isn’t really saying much.  Thursday night we played drinking games, which I have not done since before Maxine was born.  But it didn’t get messy.  It ended up getting sentimental for those of us who were there.  Ed told us that he had proposed to his girlfriend while back in the states, and we all got sentimental after that.  He then reminded me, in a very direct, if somewhat slurred and repetitive way, that in my family I have everything that is important.  Darned if I didn’t get all teary-eyed over that.  At the time I didn’t have the words to properly express how right Ed was, and how I have been distracted by losing my job, moving away from Kansas, and a million other little things that pale in comparison to the joy I have in Horyon, Maxine and Quinten.  There were many statements of agreement.  My coworker Kendra, a wonderful Canadian woman in her 20s, told me, “When I see your kids my ovaries ache!”  There was more said, both pains and hopes shared.  And we all stumbled off to bed sometime after 3 a.m. Friday morning.*

None of us brought it up after that, or since getting back from camp.  I don’t know about the rest of them, but to me this is a precious, somewhat delicate memory.  I’m afraid that someone else might break it by laughing about what was so touching to me, lumping that jewel in with the earlier part of the evening.

When I was young I went to Church Camp as a camper, then as a counselor after graduating high school.  Camp always ended in a circle that was reluctantly broken, and I always went home feeling like I had experienced something that I could not truly share with anyone who hadn’t been there before.  The imprecisely named Dongsung English Summer Camp was a little bit the same, only with alcohol.

On a side note, today I was told that after passing feedback on to the administration, it was suggested that I might be asked to be camp coordinator for next summer.  I kind of doubt that will happen, but one never knows...

*Amazingly enough I did not have a hangover Friday morning.  I drank lots of water and juice and took a shower before bed.  It cut back on my sleep, but made the next day tolerable.

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A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.