My name is JiHee Ahn. From May 31st to June 6th this year, I restarted my annual commitment to Santo Puerto, in the Dominican Republic. Every year, my local church goes to Santo Puerto where they built a church to serve the people in the area. Santo Puerto and the area we focused on are areas where the people live in extreme poverty. There is low sanitation and high crime rates. 

This year was the most extreme trip to D.R. my church has ever organized. We were expecting 200 children to come to the one-week program. I was in charge of the music class and I taught the older kids, within an age range of 9-17. Thanks to the TESOL Program, I went into the field very much prepared and confident. I was nervous about the fact that I would be teaching absolute beginner level students, when in the TESOL program I taught advanced learners, but I still had confidence to be able to handle it. How mistaken I was!

The lesson plans that I prepared worked wonderfully for 3 of my classes, children ages 9-13. However, my last class comprised of 20 adolescent students ages 14-17 who seemed very uninterested in my lesson plans. They were not engaged in learning English, let alone singing and dancing. There was also the language barrier. I was so discouraged that first day and I even had an anxiety attack the second morning of the program because I felt so scared of the sneering and lack of participation. However, thanks to my experience in TESOL and the activities that I learned, I accounted for the possibility that the older students would not like doing the same activities that the younger students found interesting. So, I quickly readjusted my lesson plans and raised the level of difficulty, and even tried to stray away from music and more interactive and communicative activities. However, that still did not stop the anxiety that rose the second day. 

It was a difficult journey having to modify my lesson plans on the spot just for the sake of this demographic challenge. However, when I reflect back on the experience, the first day was THE hardest part of the trip (besides the lack of sanitation, heat, and bugs). From that failure and disappointment, the classes only got better and the students became less guarded. I do not know how much they took away from my lessons, but on the final day, they thanked me and remembered my name and I think that is rewarding. I can’t measure the students’ motivation for coming every day. At first glance, it seemed like they were only after the extrinsic rewards of food, presents, and prizes. And I am sure there were many who did come all 5 days just to get them. However, I remember the faces and the effort of those who, from day one, were so engaged and attentive, and if I was even able to just teach them one thing or if they just simply had fun being in the classroom, I think I didn’t do such a bad job. I can’t wait to go back next year!