Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Jackson's Story

Jackson was one of those kids who are seen but not heard…ever. During his time at our Character and English Institute camp (CEI) he barely spoke except when it was absolutely necessary. It’s not like he was a bad or stubborn, he was just so shy and introverted that they are not comfortable with talking.

The end of the week came and all the students left. I didn’t really think much more about Jackson. The next week arrived, and camp was once again filled with 45 very excited energetic youngsters. After the last class on Wednesday afternoon, I returned to the office to put away my teaching supplies when my co-teacher motioned me over to tell me that a former student was on the phone wanting to talk to me.

My Chinese vocabulary is very limited, so my ‘conversations’ with students who call usually consist of me trying to scrape together what few words that I know to make simple sentences, and then desperately listening to try to understand anything of the student’s reply. But this call was different.

I picked up the phone, “Hello Jackson!”… (no response) … “Hello?”… “Hello Teacher Matt” came the whispered response. “How was your school today?”… (muttered response) … “Are you having fun today?”… (long silence) … “Yes” … For the next couple questions he gave short whispered replies, but after about a minute he stopped answering altogether.

I heard him talking to somebody else in the background, and then somebody else took the phone. The
Learning about animals at CEI
man on the phone introduced himself as Jackson’s father. In the lengthy conversation that followed he expressed his gratitude that Jackson was able to participate in this camp.  Jackson’s father said that when the school teacher told him that Jackson was going to go to a character camp that had four foreign English teachers he didn’t really believe it. As he told me, Yunlin County doesn’t really have a lot of foreign English teachers or good English programs like the big cities have. In fact when he went to school, he didn’t even start studying English until he was in junior high. Jackson’s father seemed to feel very strongly about the need for English education in rural areas, and we discussed that for some time. But as we talked the conversation turned to talking about Jackson himself.

When Jackson’s teacher first suggested the idea of Jackson going to the camp, Jackson’s father didn’t really think it was a good idea. Jackson has a huge fear of speaking to adults, so his father was unsure if sending him to a camp full of strange adults would actually be good for him, but he decided to go ahead and let him go.

When Jackson returned from camp he was still quiet and shy, but it seemed like he had enjoyed himself at the camp. In the days that followed Jackson’s father began to notice small improvements in his confidence. For example; every week Jackson and his father go out to eat at the same restaurant, and every week Jackson was too afraid to even talk to the boss or the waitress. But the weekend after returning from the camp he actually spoke to them!

Sometimes Weather Class can
get rather exciting!
Jackson’s father told me that even though he has not seen improvement in Jackson’s English abilities, he has seen improvements in his confidence. Towards the end of the conversation he asked me, “Did you call Jackson, or did he call you?” “Jackson called us.” I replied. “Wow” he marveled, “Before, Jackson would never try to talk to adults on his own!” He called Jackson over to the phone, “Talk to Teacher Matt.” Jackson said a few sentences, and then handed the phone back to his dad.

Back on the phone Jackson’s father exclaimed, “I could never get him to talk to adults before!” Apparently this short awkward conversation that I had with Jackson was the evidence of a child who was willing to finally come out of his shell and try to communicate. I’m sure that Jackson is only one of hundreds of children who have learned confidence at the character camps, but it was nice to be able to hear from his own father how we were able to help this child began to build the confidence that he will need in order to survive and thrive in his life.

People often wonder if it is possible for a child to develop good character in the 5 days of camp. I believe the answer to this to be both yes and no. No the children won’t leave the camp as ‘perfect’ people practicing all of the character qualities. Jackson was pretty much still a shy quiet kid when he went home.

But as was shown in this case, these five days can be a turning point in a child’s life where they can acquire the confidence and skills necessary in order to start developing these characters in their own lives!

~Matthew Fedoriw

Matthew served with VOICE Missions for three years on the Yunlin Team. He is presently in America preparing to return to Taiwan with his new wife, and while not presently teaching with VOICE Missions, he continues to be involved with the program.

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