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Student Spotlight: Volunteering in Korea for Disadvantaged Families

by Melissa Chan | January 9th, 2012

I had originally gone to South Korea to teach English in a rural public school with the Teach and Learn in Korea (TaLK) program. After a year of teaching, I eventually moved to Seoul to pursue my master’s degree at Seoul National University. Although school had kept me busy, I felt as through something was missing in my life. I thought back to the time I was teaching in the countryside, and I realized that I missed helping and interacting with students. I did some research and found out about HOPE, which is a volunteer program that provides English language education for underprivileged and disadvantaged families. I signed up for the program and explained what I was doing in Korea and why I wanted to volunteer. They contacted me, and I was placed in a classroom.

My experience, however, was slightly different from the other HOPE teachers because I was placed in a classroom that was located in Banghwa, which was a center for disabled children as well. At first, I did not know what to expect or even what to teach because I was told that some of the students’ levels were extremely low and that some students had major behavioral issues. On the first day, the students had filed into the classroom, and I started the class with “My name is…” While I was teaching with the help of two wonderful co-teachers, I realized that I was learning more than what the children’s’ names were, I was learning about their habits and their abilities. Although each child’s abilities varied greatly, each child left a lasting impression because of their loving and accepting personalities. What had impressed me most of all was that the students and I were able to communicate with each other despite the language and culture barrier.

While my experience with HOPE was wonderful and enriching, problems had inevitably emerged. Sometimes the students would fight with each other, which would disrupt the class. These types of conflicts were difficult to solve because of the language barrier but, with the help of my co-teachers, we were able to overcome this particular problem. Another major issue was that my inevitable departure from Korea to continue my education in the U.S. Leaving the kids was one of the most difficult things that I had to do because through the songs we sang and the games we played the students and I had built a bond of friendship and understanding. Although I am currently in the U.S., and the students are still in Seoul, I continue to think of them as time goes by as the students who made my life a little bit brighter in the city.

Melissa Chan is currently a graduate student majoring in East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor’s in English from the University of California, Irvine, and then she spent two years in South Korea. Her current study focuses on contemporary China and its relationship with diasporic Chinese populations in Taiwan and Hong Kong.



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