The meat and potatoes of my YAV year: working at Saenaru Gong Dong Che

Every YAV is placed with a work site such as a community center, a women’s shelter, or a school, as our main way to serve in our countries. The site I work with is a community center called Saenaru Gong Dong Che, which functions as a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, and afterschool safe-place for the kids of primarily low-income families in the area.

The area of town is known as a crime hot-spot and a red-light district. Many homeless, senior citizens, and single-parent households live here because the rent is cheaper. The local train underpass is known as a crime hot-spot which could be harmful for children and youth, which is a concern for the community center. Saenaru provides basic meals and delivers free meals to the homeless and senior citizens who live alone in the area. For children and youth, the center provides afterschool programs and a safe space to spend the afternoon until the night to reduce child neglect while their parents work.P1040605

I teach after school English classes here, and my class is compiled of wild, wonderful, stubborn, loud, and sweet kids who live in the neighborhood. A Hannam University student also co-teaches class with me most days, helping to reign in wild kids, and bridge some of the language gap. I’ve never been an English teacher before, so everything is new.

The first day was trying to say the least – I’d brought with me my guitar, a loose lesson plan, and the excitement that comes with being thrown into something completely new. To make a long story short, I felt like everything went wrong. As I stepped in the door, I heard a sharp bang! behind me, to realize a child behind me had let off a mini-firework and was grinning ear to ear at my reaction. The rest of my time that day was spent trying to balance teaching and keeping control of the class. It ended with a injury due to a brother stabbing his sister with a pencil, and the use of a first-aid kit. A teacher took me aside and kindly explained to me that most of the kids in my class come from challenging family situations, some with parents recently released from incarceration. Some of them face neglect and abuse every day at home.

When it was time to go home, I felt completely exhausted and wondered how I would ever learn to be a good, effective, and loving teacher every day for the rest of the year. I couldn’t even keep control of a small classroom for one afternoon – how was I supposed to do this for a year and survive?! I had zero training in the classroom, with my BS in Health and Fitness, and was given very few guidelines as to how to run an effective English class. I was set up against an impossible task, with out-of-control kids, vaguely wondering if this was really God’s plan for me, or if something just went terribly wrong.

I’m about a month in, and we’ve had our ups and downs. I’ve learned a lot more than I knew on that first day, and every day I think I’m learning a bit more. There have been a couple dramatic moments (the terror of realizing you’ve lost a kid who’s chosen to run away and are tasked to run up and down 3 flights of stairs trying to find them) , a couple breakthrough moments (like singing “Let it Go” together while washing dishes), and hours thinking about and researching lesson plans.

I have a lot of freedom in the class, and on good days we go outside to the local playground to play games disguised as action verb review. On bad days there’s pulling of hair, yelling, and the first-aid kit is needed. On good days the sweet girls take the hair scrunchies off my wrist and put my hair into careful ponytails, smiling and saying “Yepuda! Yepuda!” (pretty! pretty!). On bad days there’s bullying, and we run ourselves ragged trying to create a functional classroom environment. On good days the kids run up to me yelling “Linda Sonsangnim, gitar odi-eyo?” (“Teacher Linda, where’s your guitar?”) and take turns strumming and asking me to sing while I make chords on the fret board for them. I have learned to deal the English curse words tossed around by the kids as another avenue for them to practice English pronunciation. If they can pronounce “stupid-head” correctly, then I know they’ll have no trouble with “walk, run, bike”. Most days are a mix of both good and bad, but in the short time I’ve been here, I’ve started on the dynamic path of loving them, and hope to learn to love them better as time goes on.



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