A Tale of Two Summer Camps

Summer “vacation” in Korea isn’t quite the same as most students and teachers have it back in the US – for most Korean students, it means just as much studying at private schools, and for me and other EPIK teachers it means extra teaching at special English camps. So while Korean schools don’t officially run year-round, students never really get a break from studying – ever (at least until they graduate high school).

Over July and August, I spent three weeks at a school in a remote location in Ulsan and 1 week at my school. Teaching for 6-10 hours a day can be quite stressful, but it’s not all bad. Really, it can be quite a bit better than regular school teaching. At camps, I’ve gotten to plan and teach a lot of my own lessons, and the students are generally much more motivated to learn English. After my overnight 5th grade English camp last winter, I saw my students’ levels transform, as well as their enthusiasm for learning which they still have months later. So when the option came up to teach another three-week overnight camp for summer, I didn’t hesitate to sign up. Although I did try my best not to get assigned teaching grammar this time…which I found to be a rather unfortunate subject to be stuck with for 7 hours a day last camp.

A bit of background on these English camps – 5th and 6th grade students are shipped off to a secluded campus for three weeks (with breaks on the weekends) of intensive English studying with lots of foreign teachers. The camps are organized by the public system, and in Ulsan it’s done by the MOE (Metropolitan Office of Education). They have classes from 9 in the morning to 9 at night or later, only breaking for meals and perhaps a bit of PE time. To me it seems a bit ridiculous to have 10 and 11 year-olds in classes for 10 hours a day, but that’s just because I’m not Korean.

For summer camp, I was working with all 6th grade students off in the very southern corner of Ulsan at Seosaeng Middle School, on a tiny peninsula sticking out into the East Sea. Based on my two camp experiences and anecdotal evidence, the first day of camp generally goes like this: get picked up by a bus carrying a bunch of students. Meet the frazzled Korean teacher in charge of your bus. Make the ~1 hour drive to camp, receive some vague instructions about what to do upon arrival. Arrive at camp, find your room, try to follow vague instructions previously given. Receive different instructions several times while students and teachers wander aimlessly. Wait. Be prepared to be in a classroom of 16-60 tired, shy students eager to be entertained with no planned activities or help from a Korean co-teacher for 1-4 hours. Stay positive! After the first day, everything should settle down into a relatively set schedule.

Our dorm situation at camp brought with it some more interesting problems the first day: all of the foreign teachers were in one wing of the building, with one bathroom to share and no where to shower. Eventually, they told us there was one shower room for boys and one for girls, which was an open room to be shared with all of the students! The school dorm management didn’t seem to understand that this was not “OK.” But by the end of the day, they had it sorted out so we wouldn’t have to shower with the students, and we had a “sink shower” room for female staff with some semi-private shower curtains. Having living in Korea for a while and beet to the jimjilbang/public spas has made me a bit more immune to nudity, but I’m not quite ready to shower with all of my students…

Living in a dirty middle school dorm room for 3 weeks was a bit less than ideal, but it did have a very nice view:


Every day the class schedule was two hours of grammar, reading and vocabulary, an hour of speaking and an hour of “song”. That left two hours for “special activities”. I lucked out in getting a pretty laid back arts & crafts activity.


Little paper dragonflies that balance on their nose. It was a pretty simple idea suggested by my co-teacher, and the kids were totally into it! μ•„μ‹Έ!!


The biggest obstacle of camp was preparing a song and dance for the Song Festival. Aiiigo, aiiiiiigo. I felt like it was a bit much to expect us to choreograph a dance and teach it and a song to our students within the little spare time afforded by the camp schedule, but the results were actually pretty great. Upon arriving to camp, we were told that the song we selected to teach each night would be our song for the festival. I had “Another Brick in the Wall,” which was quickly vetoed by my class as too slow and boring. They instead chose a song by some awful British pop act McFly, which had been in some Korean drama. It was beyond awful, but absolutely adored by the students. And it’s all for them anyway.

Teaching “Another Brick in the Wall” was an interesting failure… I thought something in it might resonate with the students, who are studying all day and at 12 are starting to feel the seeds of rebellious teenage angst. But it didn’t quite work out. Most students couldn’t have cared less, no matter what I tried. I think I reached about 10 students out of the 100-200 I had, and only had a couple of classes that I felt good about. Eventually I gave up and switched to James Brown “I Feel Good,” because at least it would make me happy and let me get totally goofy. And it actually got an entire class up and dancing! My best 20 minutes of camp.

One of the highlights was “Octopus’s Garden” by the Beatles. So cute! Next time, I’m choosing a song with an animal theme.

The boys from my homeroom class.

So camp was a big difficult, particularly aapting to the schedule hearing “Teacher! Teacher! Teacher!” “Teacher! Teacher!” non-stop all day, every day except for the hours you’re sleeping. But then after 3 weeks, it’s over!! And you get all these letters:




And they overwhelm all of the bad memories of camp and you wonder…maybe I could do it again next time!

But apparently that won’t be a question to consider because the camps are no more! Or so I heard. I guess they’re too expensive. Ah well. They were …interesting while they lasted.


A week later, I had my school’s camp. Which was 6 hours a day of whatever I wanted to do with a group of 4th-6th graders. I was pretty excited about this never-before-had freedom, and got to work in a lot of group projects and non-English subjects. Each day had a theme: The World, Animals, Science, Fairy Tales, and Superheroes.

Animal Day:

I ripped off this mask design from something I found online but thought it looked pretty cool.

Summer English Camp
This is from “Oktapodi: the sequel” inspired from this great animated short.

Summer English Camp
There’s an alien fishing with a big worm. She sees the octopi and says, “Lets go with the cosmos.”

I also redid my dragonfly craft, which was great once again!


And I was really excited to do a reading and writing activity based around superhero comics. First we read a bunch of comics that I had made. Then we discussed how to make a comic, and the students had to make their own…


It looks like there’s something inappropriate happening between Superman and Wonder Woman. And perhaps Catwoman is having a wardrobe malfunction?


I like this a lot.

The comic book activity ended up being a bit too much about coloring, and a bit too little about English. But I think it could be modified into something really great. I was quite pleased with the results.

Looking back on summer camps after having started regular classes again, they look good. Even with all the work. And I’m happy that the last thing I do before I leave Korea for good in February will be my school’s winter camp. Oh, the possibilities…


50 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. The Simple Life of a Country Man's Wife
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 13:53:21

    Wow, you must have been a busy, busy gal. Sounds like they enjoyed it, and I bet the impact and memories will stay with them a long time. Now, I’m curious to as the culture’s thinking behind the showering scenario?…


  2. GraceLynneFleming
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 13:59:04

    this is a great post – thank you for sharing!



  3. Miriam
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 14:14:00

    No break from studying? I am SO glad I live in the UK, then. Our school holidays might only be six weeks, not much compared to America, but I’d rather that than nothing…
    Still, sounds like you were a good teacher, and congrats on Freshly Pressed!


  4. conniewalden
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 14:24:12

    Thanks for sharing your service in Korea. What a great opportunity. Connie


  5. koneko101
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 14:33:19

    how do you make ur blog page as cool as this mine is so boring


  6. Eeshan
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 14:33:26

    The letters were so cute!! πŸ™‚


  7. Kathryn McCullough
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 14:38:06

    I would one day love to teach English abroad. I’ve taught writing to college students here in the US and lived abroad in Vietnam and Haiti, but never taught in either instance.
    Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing your experience and your students fine work–even their notes. How sweet!


  8. Mikalee Byerman
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 15:02:09

    What an incredible experience — it sounds like you made quite an impression on your students. Congrats on surviving — and perhaps even considering doing it again?!?! With those living conditions, you’re brave indeed …



  9. Oh God, My Wife Is German
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 15:44:42

    Awesome post, Annie!


  10. the island traveler
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 15:47:03

    Thank you for such a fun and enjoyable post. This reminds all of us why our kids are crazy over Summer camps. On top of the learning activities, they are able to meet new friends that they will treasure always. congrats.


  11. abichica
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 16:02:44

    great post.. πŸ˜€


  12. mkglowe
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 16:07:29

    You gotta love letters from students – they’re always unique


  13. Tattoos, love and lunacy...
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 16:22:41

    Haha their letters are so cute and I got a chuckle out of the whore comic πŸ˜‰ Great post. As a teacher, also, I can relate. I’ve posted cute letters too. I love teaching!


  14. irock10
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 16:52:24

    o koolz i saw an octopus lolxz


  15. Stephanie
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 16:55:24

    Looks like you had a fabulous time and certainly brings back memories as I was teaching in Korea from 2003 to 2007!


  16. zenlifefrugal
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 17:29:26

    Thanks for posting and sharing! Korea is definitely an interesting place!


  17. Trackback: UK News | A Tale of Two Summer Camps
  18. aysewww
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 17:41:57



  19. Cassie
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 19:45:54

    This is wonderful. I loved working with summer camps and it seems like you had an amazing experience as well. I love their letters the most!


  20. chicquero
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 21:04:30

    Fabulous, just to look at the smiles, you can tell that their having a blast.
    Congrats for that, and for your Freshly Pressed.

    Cheers from Brazil!


  21. limdongcheol
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 21:36:41

    Ha ha, the shower problem! What is it with waegs and their fear of being seeing naked or seeing other naked people? We love to think we are liberated but across an eleven year period I have only ever visited a bathhouse with 2 fellow waegs. While some will venture to a jjimjilbang, most will avoid the mogyoktang. Westerners are fearful if not homophobic when it comes to the subject. I bathe everyday and have done for many years and there is nothing alarming about students and teachers (of the same sex) seeing each other naked; it can be very bonding – unless of course, you’re western.

    Culturally, we carry around a whole load of negative baggage about bodies which lead us to judge and ridicule. What is most wonderful about mogyoktangs is they are usually waeg free and as such are one of the only places in Korea that haven’t adapted themselves to receiving foreigners – unlike the Boring Boroyoeng Mud Fest. Further, they are also free of the crippling conflations such as, nudity=sex, children=sex, nudity=homosexuality which hallmark the western psyche and which Koreans find very bizarre. If you (not you personally), want to learn something about both your own culture and Korean culture, the mogyoktang is one of the most rewarding places to visit. Yes, it involves seeing naked kids and toddlers but hey, you might also discover that the bodies of children are not in the least sexually stimulating.


    • anniebananie
      Sep 20, 2011 @ 23:01:32

      Thanks for the comment! I agree that we have pretty messed up notions about nudity in the west. But while I like relaxing in the jimjilbangs and public baths, I’m still not comfortable showering with my students – especially at school – as they’re quite young and very curious and tend to ask questions about ANYTHING in class. I’d just rather keep my body (and tattoo) private.

      But thanks for the recommendation! I think it’s good advice for fellow waegs out there.


  22. limdongcheol
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 21:50:36

    Hey, I hope I didn’t come across too negative – your blog is great and I especially love the photos but EPIK has tamed the Korean experience and filled the peninsula with some very unadventurous and blinkered individuals. I added your link to my blogroll.


  23. Modern Seoul
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 21:51:56

    Sounds and looks like everyone had a fun time πŸ™‚


  24. amandawalcott
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 22:47:37

    Thank you for the experience’, it was a really exciting one


  25. Sophia Morgan (griffinspen)
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 23:43:22

    The letters are so sweet! What an experience. So happy you shared it. Congrats on being Pressed!


  26. Kai
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 00:05:43

    aww such cute kids…seem like a really fun class and the students letters were so sweet


  27. thong tin bat dong san
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 00:48:40

    haha, very good and interesting


  28. Mika
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 01:22:17

    Nice post! πŸ™‚ I can somehow relate to you since my line of work also involves helping Korean students improve their English skills (though mine’s online-based). Anyway, good luck!!! πŸ™‚


  29. michel tastard
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 03:21:46

    i like!


  30. littlelin
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 03:22:23

    this is a great post – thank you for sharing!


  31. terarmt
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 03:22:33

    Sounds and looks like everyone had a fun time!


  32. redstonermt
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 03:23:29

    This is wonderful. I loved working with summer camps and it seems like you had an amazing experience as well. I love their letters the most!


  33. rmtgg
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 03:23:43

    You gotta love letters from students – they’re always unique


  34. helpseller
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 03:27:38

    This looks interesting ~


  35. IQ Travel PH
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 04:51:57

    What a great article! It looks you had fun amidst all the struggles that you mentioned. I know teaching is a noble profession, and much better if you knew you were appreciated by your students. I’m just sad that you mentioned that the authorities have stopped offering these English camps.


  36. luckybirdzeyewear
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 07:23:28

    Great shareing! Thanks and the children are so cute.


  37. rohitmaiya
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 10:03:16

    Enjoyed reading your article. I have been a trainer and even I used to teach English but to adults. Even they can evoke the same feelings.

    I hope you conduct a lot more of such camps.


  38. Travelling Writer
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 11:02:12

    great pictures!!! i was once a teacher and knowing that your students learn something from you and basically respect you would bring such a great pride of being a teacher… congrats. πŸ˜€



  39. moncler
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 11:17:16

    Love the pictures,great!!!Thanks and the children are so cute!!!!!!!!


  40. aunaqui
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 11:18:31

    I think it’s really neat that you’ve been able to experience the innerworkings of a different country and culture.. also, that you’ve been a heart-and-soul part of the education of its young people. I’m sure that the experience was eye-opening for you and enlightening for them as well! And what a challenge. My dream has always been to be an educator someday.. and I imagine that teaching in an environment I’m used to (USA school) would be challenging enough — I CAN’T imagine feeling displaced, out of my comfort zone, speaking a different language confidently and doing so well (as you have). Congratulations, you’re an inspiration!

    Aun Aqui


  41. Burhannudin Rabbani
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 11:37:23

    cute post. i like this post


  42. Education Voodoo
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 13:08:10

    Wow! Look at the penmanship on those notes – English is a second or even third language for those kids! Penmanship and cursive have been ditched in most American public schools because “the kids are using computers and don’t need to learn handwriting skills.” How about that?

    Great job, kids! Great job, Annie!


  43. jacoboheme
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 13:18:45

    This was awesome and inspiring. I spent last summer tutoring ESL students from Korea at my college last summer. While incredibly rewarding, I miss working with children. Thanks for sharing this!

    -Jacob Ryan Paul


  44. honnier
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 14:24:28

    I once worked at this kind of English camp in Seoul as TA.(Am a Korean attending university in South Korea). Not sure you had your own Korean TA but the one I worked at assigned one Korean University student to each English speaking teacher. yes..we also had a few problems caused by the lack of knowledge about English speaking teachers.Once we went to a Korean food restaurant where you need to sit down on the floor without anything supports your back. Many of them-Koreans had no problem- get their back hurt…..
    Anyways nice to read this article! πŸ™‚


  45. clothing urban
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 17:01:31

    I was recommended this website by my cousin. I’m not sure whether this post is written by him as nobody else know such detailed about my problem. You are incredible! Thanks!


  46. gaycarboys
    Sep 25, 2011 @ 07:33:49

    looks like fun. Thanks for the pics and the great post:)


  47. Caroline
    Sep 29, 2011 @ 17:40:52

    It looks like you had a blast! Very creative ideas for your own week lessons. I taught English in China a few years ago. I actually thought of teaching again in Korea.


  48. pandora
    Nov 07, 2011 @ 23:11:33

    your article is very beautiful.i really like it.thank you for your sharing.


  49. doanhnhanthanhdatvn
    Jan 25, 2013 @ 03:32:19

    Haha,it’s so fun, thank a lot.

    doanh nhan thanh dat


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