Saturday, January 10, 2009

English in the Mountains Part I

What do you get when you combine children, adults, cabins and mountains? You get camp!!

My experience at Gunpo Winter Camp was more like going on a mountain retreat. At the camp I found myself in a cozy cabin and amongst a relaxed atmosphere. So here I am to share it all with you. Please come with me through my journey at Winter Camp here in Korea.

This adventure started with a bus ride. Children and adults rode together. Boys and girls got their own bus. The foreign teachers all rode on the girl's bus in the back.

At 8:10 in the morning I boarded the bus and saw in the back a few foreigners and joined them. More kids and teachers got on the bus and it was time to go.

Meeting other Teachers:
When other foreigners meet each other for the first time there is typically a list of questions we all ask each other.
  • Where are you from?
  • How long have you been in Korea?
  • What level are you teaching? (elementary, middle, high school)
  • What did you study in college?
  • Is this your first time in Korea?
So as the bus rolled along we all talked about these subjects and exchanged our experiences. Venting about the bad moments at school and sharing the better pieces.

It turned out I was the only girl amongst all the foreigners. The other girl teacher was sick and stayed home. I accepted this and thought about how Korea mostly hires male teachers. I also think I felt some pride too.

The other teachers seemed nice and friendly. Some having longer experience abroad, and one was fresh like me.

Pit Stop:
The bus ride was to take about 2.5 hrs, and so half way through we made a pit stop.

In America when you drive on a major freeway or highway, along the way you can find pit stops. I especially remember the ones in Florida. As you know, Florida is a one long flat state, so driving from South to North is a tedious job. The pit stops in Florida were like a fast-food haven, housing Burger King, McD's and the rest all under one roof! Indeed, the first cheeseburger I ever ate was at a pit stop in Florida at Burger King.

Anyways, Korean pit stops seem to grasp the same "all-under-one-roof" concept. There is one large parking lot and then a building with a cafeteria and restrooms. Everything was clearly labeled in Korean and English. Outside there were some little canopy shops selling Korean souvenir trinkets.
Arrival and Settling In:
The bus ride was wobbly and riding in the back didn't help avoid car sickness so getting off the bus was a relief. It was about 11AM when we got there. The schedule was that we were to eat lunch and then teach for a few hours.

First, they allowed us settle in to our cabins. Actually the moment I got off the bus and took in the surroundings I felt really pleased to be there. If you live in any metropolitan place, especially in Korea, you are surrounded by tall gray buildings, neon signs, cement, lack of lawns, lack of green space. This lack of greenery can put fatigue on the soul. Seeing the mountains and trees I felt like I had come to a retreat.

The children seemed excited too, and gleefully ran over to their respected cabins to put in their luggage.

This was the building in which my little room was in. The smaller structure on the left was my room.

Looking at the interior I feel a sense of longing to go back to this cozy place. I got my own cabin, because boys slept in theirs and as you know the other gal was out sick. Having my own place made this place more of a haven.

Sleeping on the floor wasn't as bad as expected. It took awhile to figure out the right blanket layering underneath. Also the ondol in this place was really warm and it felt like I slept in a cozy warm nest all night. During my breaks I would come back to my cabin and try to space out (relax).

The view from my cabin:
Before classes started they had an opening ceremony, which included saluting the Korean flag.

Ready to Teach:
But camp wasn't all about resting in a cozy cabin. For our task there was to teach an English program. I was tired and bus-sick but had to somehow teach for a few hours on the first day. Each teacher was assigned a particular subject. Everyone got the same material book, including the kids.

Subjects included:
  • Winter Activity (winter themed games)
  • Journalism
  • Poetry
  • Cooking
  • Art
  • Sports
  • World Records
  • World Discovery (mine)
On the bus ride we all asked each other what we had been assigned and it seemed no one wanted what they were given so we did some trading.

Anyways, the point I wanted to make was that we didn't have much time to prepare alongside that we were tired from our traveling. But this kind of management is typical for English teaching work here, so I wasn't too shocked. Instead, within the short time we had before teaching I looked over the material and came up with a plan for that day. Later I would go through each lesson and figure it out.

The first day went well and at the end I took a rest in my cabin.

In Part II I will share pictures and video from camp and explain what we did and the good times that were had. So stay tuned!


  1. Thanx for the great camp debriefing Part I.
    The bedroom building looks more like a condo than a "cabin"! Did you have your own bathroom in your bedroom?
    How come they sleep on the floor?
    Why don't they have futons on the floor or something like that?
    Curious Momz here!

  2. Hi Curious Mom

    Sleeping on the floor is a normal thing for Korean ppl. This is cause the floor is heated.

    Yes there was a bathroom, which was near the entrance. Had a shower, toilet and sink...all with boiling hot water.

    You are right it was more like a condo. Other structures on camp were more like cabins but with similar interiors. Certainly we weren't ruffing it.

    hehe ;)

    Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. ruffing = roughing

    Altho warm, the floor is hard.. (duh!) do they use a pad or mat of any sort under themselves?

    Where's Part II?

  4. no pad just blankets... yes it was hard to get use to.


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