It is quite a shock. But… for now, there are no students at Gyeonggi English Village in Paju, South Korea. In truth I didn’t see it coming. I imagine other teachers didn’t either. But here we wait on the quiet grounds wondering what is next.
It all started with the tragic ferry accident in South Korea. I am sure the news has made its way to you wherever you are in the world. A ferry holding over 450 passengers was on a regular route from the northwest coast of South Korea to Jeju Island, a popular vacation destination. Who was on board? Mostly it was a group of high school students from Ansan, a city just outside of Seoul. They were traveling to Jeju for their class trip. What followed is the tragic story of a slowly sinking ferry just hours from its destination with hundreds of people still trapped inside, mostly students.
Needless to say, the people and parents of Korea are insane with grief and outrage. It seems true that a folly of errors, poor judgement and bad training contributed widely to the tragic outcome of these circumstances.
What was unexpected for me, perhaps as an American, perhaps as an outsider, was the government response that now has the streets of English Village in silence. It is my understanding that the Gyeonggi Province government canceled all student trips for the upcoming semester. Other provinces have responded in kind. I am told even China and Japan and considering the same. And now schools in South Korea far and wide have canceled their three-day excursion to Gyeonggi English Village.
I can understand the compelling desire to protect oneself and your children particularly in the face of something so devastating. In truth after reading about the accident my reaction was to plot and plan how I could avoid such a situation myself… should I stay off of ferries? I am more than aware of the mind and body’s unpredictable response in the aftermath of a disaster. I can recall shortly after Hurricane Katrina flooded my home city of New Orleans being in a second floor apartment in Texas feeling concerned if I left items on the floor they might get ruined by the flood. However, it was still a surprise to me that the government responded in such a manner.
This is an event that Korea is taking very seriously and its people are still sifting through their rage, politics and confusion. The “no trip mandate” is just one way they are demonstrating that. For us at Gyeonggi English Village, it leaves us for now with mostly no students (a few other more modest programs still operate lightly). We are told programming for the next two months is practically vacant with no real plan for what is to come. Our administration is twisting and bending itself in an attempt to recover or adapt to this new face of English Village. There is talk of bringing in more international students and focusing on our one day programs which don’t require students to come spend the night.
In the meantime this leaves us in a great space of uncertainty. Our work time this week has been occupied with planning our lessons for our month-long program in August that we assume will happen… but I suppose truly time will tell. What is in store for us as teachers, foreign staff, and an institution is far from clear.
This circumstance leaves me in a humbled space. While in some ways the quiet is a welcome break, it is also a haunting reminder. And so I pray… for all involved. Those who survived the ferry. Those who did not. Those who are suffering and outraged by this tragedy. Those who are blamed. And also quite simply for me and the other teachers at my place of work as we face some new uncertainty in our own lives.
That is it for now, writing in the unprecedented silence of Gyeonggi English Village.