Please enjoy the below reflection from Chris Ahn, Bonner Class of 2016.
Written by: Chris Ahn
This summer I worked in a village in Korea where due to historical circumstances (it used to be a leper colony during the time of Japanese occupation), the people there face a lot of prejudice. The socioeconomic barriers affect all aspects of their lives including education, where kids are even ostracized at school. Unfortunately as a result of this discrimination, many people in the village have set their sights low and are not interested in education in the least.
Enter the new pastor of Sungsan Presbyterian Church and his wife, who five years ago decided to break down these awful stigmas through the power of education. Each summer, they run a summer school (recognized by the Korean welfare association) where for a few weeks, kids from the area are taught English. The results have proven to be astounding, not just in raising test scores, but in giving kids a passion for learning and the inspiration to know that they have potential. With the success of students from the village, outsiders are shocked and left to reconsider their preconceived notions about the village.
Enter me and three other American students who were invited to teach in the summer program last year (one of them being Wonhee Lim, the pastor’s son and a fellow sophomore at W&L). News of Americans teaching in the village made a positive impact on how outsiders perceived the village (according to surveys post-camp).
Prior to the actual camp, we were given an orientation on how to teach and control the kids effectively. We planned many activities and games, and practiced songs. Then, for the first week of camp, I taught basic English to a class of 8 8-9 year-olds. The next week was the program for older kids (older elementary, middle, and high school). There, I played guitar in a band to teach them English songs, organized and ran activities, and taught a class of the highest achieving students (7 kids in it). The class was in full English immersion style, which was challenging, but rewarding for them. My role as a teacher from America was not just to teach, but to widen their perspective on the world and stress the importance of education. In the process, of course, the many students in the village and I became good friends.
After the two-week program, many of the students, the teachers, and I went on a mission trip led and partly funded by the church to the Philippines. We worked with a University christian fellowship called Students for Christ, where we did many different kinds of work in the slums of Manila. I personally was on the medical mission team, distributing medicine to long lines of people in an extremely impoverished village literally made out of garbage.
Overall my work in Korea and the Philippines made out to be a fantastic summer experience, and I felt like I made a real impact for the students and the village I served.