When someone says "summer camp" what do you think of? Swimming, horseback riding, hiking, group activities, games, and most important, staying overnight wherever the camp is.
I worked the last week in July and the first week in August at the Kyungsung University Talk Talk English Camp. We had activities, but the kids were only officially there for three hours per day,* and the closest we came to swimming was the water-balloon toss and fight. There was also some study involved, which the kids took with surprising good grace. There were snacks, but only two days had serious food: the day we cooked hotdogs and the day we had Papa John's pizza.
The schedule was not exactly brutal, but compared to my usual university load it was hard. We taught three 50-minute classes in the morning, with a 10 and a 20 minute break, then an hour lunch break and the same schedule in the afternoon with a different batch of kids. Six hours a day with kids isn't bad if you are used to it, but I am not used to it. Last semester I had 18 hours of class in one week, compared to 30 during camp. But my 18 hours were with people who were on the verge of adulthood, some even spilling over into it. The kids were all in fourth, fifth and sixth grade, so essentially they are little, slightly crazy people. More energy than the college kids, but every bit as inclined to stare into their phones if given the opportunity.**
But mostly nice, crazy people. Many of them are Maxine's age, so it was interesting to compare them. Of course, even the best of them didn't speak English as well as my girl, but there were a lot of similar behaviors. This is truly the age at which my sense of humor starts to be effective. Whenever we play hangman and a student guesses the letter U, I reply by saying, "Me?" to which they inevitably say, "U!" This can go back and forth three or four times before the student trying to play a serious game here either gets it and laughs or starts to have a little mental breakdown.
You know, I really treasure the little breakdowns I cause. They are, each and every one of them, special to me.
Even though the hours were long, in our ten days of camp we had four days in which the students came and worked on books, like a regular English hogwon (both "o"s sound like the "o" in hog, a hogwon being a private institute for ensuring that students continue learning into the evening after school is finished.) The other six days were:
1. Opening ceremony, including a trivia game, and the "Mommy Quiz," a configuration like the old Newlywed Game in which the student and their parent write down their answer to a question and get points for having the same answer. I volunteered to be emcee for this event, and spent far too much time wondering what was going to happen next. Fortunately, I have reached the point in my life where I am not overly embarrassed to be in front of a crowd and unsure of what I am doing. In fact, that sounds a lot like my regular job.
2. Mini-Olympics! Dodgeball, relay races, tug of war, water-balloon toss, all of your standard Olympic sports writ small, combined with the humiliation and smells of gym class. It was a sweatfest of a day, though the tug of war was the only event I seriously participated in. There were enough kids that they easily pulled the teachers and staff across the line, though in the afternoon we managed to beat the boys.
3. Hot dog/smoothie/treasure hunt. These three activities took a total of about 2 hours, leaving us to fake it for the last hour. And it was ridiculously hot standing around outside eating hot dogs. By way of clarification, the treasures (cheap little toys) were the only thing the kids hunted for. The hot dogs were cooked outside and served with minimal fuss to any kid who wanted one. The smoothies were made indoors with milk, frozen strawberries and this nasty strawberry syrup that the kids would have been just as happy to chug straight up. "Teacher! Syrup!" was the rallying cry for the day.
4. Paper schooner kit day. Here you can get some very cool model kits that don't require glue. The pieces are printed on paper coated perforated styrofoam sheets about 1/16 of an inch thick. The pieces fit together with clever little tabs and slots to make a lovely model. This year it was a bluenose schooner, allowing, no, requiring me to make "schooner or later" jokes until they sank. The kids enjoyed this (the schooner making, not my jokes), the teachers mostly sat back and watched or helped the uncoordinated kids. Or sat back and watched the uncoordinated kids struggle.
5. Bridge building contest day. This was my idea: give each pair of kids 50 disposable wooden chopsticks, one roll of tape, and a set distance to span. After 90 minutes, pile textbooks on the bridges until they break. It went well enough that they will likely do it again next year. The winners were surprisingly artless structures of bundled chopsticks taped heavily together. I was hoping to discover the future engineers of the group building amazing structures. Maybe next year.
6. Closing ceremony/Market Day. During the two weeks of camp the teachers had some pretend money that we gave out to students who behaved well. On the last day the kids could buy cheap (and not so cheap) prizes. We did random drawings to decide who would go first from each group. It killed some serious time, and let some of our staff (not me) strut the stage acting silly and entertaining everyone. I found myself laughing uncontrollably at multiple points, so I call it good.
My biggest complaint about the camp was that our classrooms were on the top floor and had insufficient air conditioning to cool a room with a dozen kids and a teacher. Next year we will be in a different building, so that should take care of that.
My second biggest complaint was that it wasn't really camp. It was fun, but there is nothing like a 24/7 camp for building community. On the other hand, if I had had to stay there 24/7 I would not be writing to you now, as there is no internet service in jail.
I did one thing distinctively different from my fellow teachers: I brought my ukulele. My students learned "Obladi Oblada" by the Beatles, though they were a bit shaky on the second verse about buying a 20 carat golden ring (ring!). My playing, at least on that song, improved a lot. Unfortunately, I never got anyone to record us. I will have to record myself doing it solo.
So it was a tiring two weeks. My poor kids had to stay with the in-laws where there is air conditioning and television. I don't know how they survived. Horyon says I shouldn't do it again next year, but it was pretty good money and didn't kill any of our vacation plans. Not that we had any, or ended up making any. But that lack was not because of this camp.
Now it is a full month since camp ended, and I am just now posting. I will get into the whys and howfors and whatsits*** of this delay in my next post, which will cover the move.
*Some of them showed up an hour early, and some hung around for as long.
**Seriously. if I had let them they would have played games on their phones until their little batteries died.
***Can you believe it? Spellchecker quietly accepted whatsits! But not howfors!