8. Sunday, December 21, 2014 – English teacher meets her students at Samsungwon
Today’s post is by Anna Orr, who lives in Gumi, South Korea, and hails from Illinois, USA. She shares how she started volunteering at Samsungwon, an orphanage in Gumi, and what drew her back from regular visits — her former students!
I got involved with Samsungwon two years ago, when I signed up to help out at the 2012 Christmas party, but I’ve known a lot of the children there for much longer. Way back in 2009, when I first arrived in South Korea, I was placed at the Gumi elementary school that most of the Samsungwon children attend. Although my Korean coworkers would occasionally mention that some of my eight-hundred-plus students lived in an orphanage, I didn’t really know who any of them were.
By the time I saw the Facebook post asking for Samsungwon Christmas party volunteers, I had already transferred to a different school. I was aware that this was where some of my old elementary school students lived, though, and so the closer the day of the Christmas party got, the more I found myself second-guessing my decision to volunteer. What if my being there made the students feel awkward or embarrassed? What if I didn’t recognize them and upset them?
In the end I decided to go anyway, and as it turned out I shouldn’t have worried. Throughout the day, all I heard was surprised children yelling “Anna Teacher!” My old students were fine with me being there and were happy to see me – and to my relief, I recognized and remembered every single one of them.
For the past two years, I’ve become a regular volunteer at Samsungwon, visiting on Sundays and organizing two Christmas gift drives. I’ve watched my old students grow from elementary schoolers to young adults in middle school and high school. Despite the fact that they’re teenagers and like all teenagers everywhere have better things to do than sit and talk to adults,
they still run up to me and chat with me in a mix of English, Korean, and improvised sign language. I’ve heard fretting about English tests, questions about grammar, wardrobe critiques, makeup advice, endless jokes about whether or not I have a boyfriend, anxiety about applying for jobs or college, and recaps of quarrels with friends. I’ve had my nails done. I’ve even heard lectures about soccer rules and how I’m not following them.
Yesterday was the 2014 Christmas party. Rather than turning up a little worried and not sure what to expect, I walked in juggling an armful of gifts and shopping lists while some of the younger children trailed after me and tried to peek inside the packages. Over the course of the day I must have seen at least a dozen old students taking pictures, playing games, opening presents, and herding the little children to different activities. I still heard plenty of “Anna Teacher!”, but none of them were surprised to see me there this time.
If you had told me in 2009 that five years later I would be wearing a Santa hat and taking selfies with some of my old students – as they prepare to go to college, no less – I’m not sure I would have believed you. The fact that I have the chance to do things like that, and that I’ve become a small part of the older Samsungwon children’s lives, has been the best part of volunteering here.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post about the Christmas party at Samsungwon…