Bandi Study Room, on the second floor of a building in Gileum-dong, Seongbuk-gu, is brightly lit. Here, twenty or so young students gather to maintain the traditions of ‘Unhaw-hoe,’ which commemorates its 53rd anniversary this year. Two years after its establishment in 1967, Unhwa-hoe opened Jongno Night School.
“One of the founding members of the club that we recently met told us that he entered the university in 1969. When they started teaching at the night school, KU students from different majors joined the club and taught children from the slums in Jongno or teenagers who had to earn a living by shining shoes,” Do-yeong Go (‘18, Department of English Language and Literature), the current president of the club says.
He says that, at the beginning of each year, the club receives applications for membership from freshmen. For those newbies, the club hosts a seminar where they can learn about the history of the club, and study various subjects and teaching methods. Following the introductory seminar, they are asked to participate in the club’s training activities which include research sessions, visits to other study rooms, and volunteer work at farms in rural areas. After completing this training, the new members are finally qualified as instructors and given the chance to participate in the educational services that the club offers. Once they start to work as club instructors, they are asked to attend weekly school meetings, regardless of whether they are during the semester or a vacation. The club instructors also have to spare a maximum of two days a week for teaching. The responsibilities and duties of the instructors explain why all the preparatory training is necessary.
“Initially, the goal of the club was to support teenagers living in the Jongno area in their preparations to take the ‘geomjeonggosi,’ an exam that leads to the equivalent of a high school diploma. In the 70s and 80s, when the labor and pro-democracy movements were strong in Korea, the club was tinged with politics and the night school was a place where student activists could gather. When some of the members started to argue about which direction the club should go in, either political or academic, the club members divided themselves into two groups, namely ‘Unhwa-hoe’, which assumed the club name and focused on supporting test-takers, and ‘Saebyeok Gwangjang’, which insisted on the role of the club as a night school for activists. Before the club was certified as an official education service in 1993, there had been numerous disputes about whether it should maintain itself purely as a night school and about which groups it should target as potential students,” says Go. He continues, “As I look at the details of our history, I can see how much effort our forebears have made to sustain the club for more than 50 years. At the same time, it gives me strength to forge ahead and explore what we can and should do in future.” Go also mentions how special the relation between the former and current members is. “After graduation, former members of the club maintain their relationships through their own club, ‘Unni-hoe.’ Around this time of year, when people greet the New Year, we hear from the former members and they tell their stories, which makes me realize how rewarding this job is and, at the same time, how big my responsibilities are. I am sure that participating in Unhaw-hoe is more meaningful than simply joining a student club.”
Hope for Helping Others and Society
In the 2000s, when night schools seemed to lose their reason for being, Unhaw-hoe abolished its previous educational service policy and opened a study room. To do so, the club had to tackle many challenges such as finding a new, independent site for the study room, establishing a new educational service policy, and recruiting teachers. In 2005, the club finally found a reading room for youths in Cheongnyangni, but faced opposition from the university authorities.
“After challenging arguments with the university, former members of the club decided to raise funds for an independent study room. This place, where we are doing this interview right now, is the study room that the club managed to have with the support of only former members. There are many educational service clubs approved by Korea University, but we are the only one that runs a study room autonomously. In addition, we have signed an official cooperation agreement with the Seongbuk-gu District Office, enabling us to access government support.”
The club president elaborates on their curriculum. “There have been quite a lot of changes in our teaching style and curriculum. From Monday to Thursday, we have classes on the Korean Language, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies from 6 pm to 9 pm. On Friday, we have supplementary classes. In order to recruit students, we contact the Seongbuk-gu Office, the Community Services Center, or nearby schools, who help us select them from low-income families.
We sometimes meet teachers from middle schools to receive recommendations for potential students. We have around 5 or 6 students from each middle-school grade and we try to maintain our relationship with them until their graduation. We teach them school subjects, but we also support them in other ways. We cannot accommodate many due to space constraints, but we still try to be good mentors for them.”
The curriculum of the club follows the regular school curriculum, but students are divided into different classes based on their academic achievement levels. In 2019 a total of 13 club instructors were responsible for teaching, attending to, and guiding their students. For first graders in middle school, who do not take any exams thanks to the implementation of the free semester system, the instructors design their classes in such a way as to encourage students to participate, by planning diverse classroom activities such as scientific experiments. During examination periods, the club offers intensive courses where students can focus on solving problems. The club instructors also devise their own textbooks, set learning themes for classes, and run a counseling program. All of these efforts are designed to encourage students to develop their own strengths, in this way helping them to continue their studies after leaving the study club.
Kyu-sik Um (‘19, Department of Korean Language Education) tells us what he has felt so far in working as an instructor at the club. “I am now the main instructor here at Bandi Study Room, and I am in charge of the timetable and schedule, and of instructor oversight. Since I took this job, I have felt disappointed in myself from time to time when I realized my limitations. It is not a difficult thing for me to explain academic subjects in a way that students can understand, but developing a learning plan or having a parent consultation were some of the many challenges that I have had to face, in terms of the administrative work that is involved. After realizing that the burdens I have felt may have a negative impact on our students, I decided not to try to be a perfect teacher. I had a candid conversation with one of our students, telling him how I felt, and subsequently the student, whose attitude in class left something to be desired, gradually changed in a positive way. I was deeply impressed, and that became a sort of a turning point for me as an instructor. I am looking forward to seeing myself grow together with our students, finding a balance between teaching and administrative work.” Um says that he is constantly thinking about ideas that can improve the management of the study room.
Jong-su Park (‘19, Division of Health Policy and Management), who works as a science instructor at the study room, says that he has had unexpected fun while planning and leading lab sessions or field trips. “Before starting to work as an instructor here, I had only had classroom experience as a student. But since I came here and became an instructor for our students, I have often realized what kind of thoughts my teachers had or how they felt back then. Sometimes I find myself behaving more politely to professors than before,” he says, making the interviewers and other interviewees smile. He confesses that he did not think much about what it would be like working at the club when he first decided to join. Now he is one of the most passionate and empathetic instructors at the study room. He always wonders how he can become someone that his students can rely on and receive positive energy from. No doubt, taking a teaching job has led him to unconsciously change and develop himself.
The name 'Unhwa-hoe' comes from the Bible, consisting of ‘Un’ which is derived from the Chinese character meaning ‘cloud,’ and ‘hwa’ from the Chinese character meaning ‘fire.’ According to the Bible, throughout the Israelites' journey to Canaan, God used a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to lead his people. The founding members of the club took the idea of helping people in need by day and by night and named their club ‘Unhaw-hoe (Club of Cloud and Fire).’ The current club members proudly say that the passion that their seniors had back in 1967 still exists in them after 52 years of struggle. It is said that back then, the club members used to say, “Let’s teach our students as if our club will vanish someday soon.” The current members are now holding aloft their own pillar of hope and trying to show others the right path to follow. Their clouds will block the ferocious sun, and their fire will light the path ahead. The members of Unhaw-hoe gather at the study room as always and continue to work with and for others.