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September 2007 - Issue No. #66 (p. 14 - 17)

A Korea – Japan English Camp for
Promoting Intercultural Understanding

by Joo-Kyung Park (Honam University, South Korea) &
Robert J. Dickey (Gyeongju University, South Korea)

English Education in Korea

English language learning in Korea has undergone many changes and challenges, driven by social needs and expectations from within and beyond Korea. The emergence of English as a global language has also demanded reshaping of goals and approaches to achieve them (Park, 2005). English camps are one response to the perceived “crisis” in English education.

According to the Korean national curriculum, as revised over the past two decades, the goals for English education have emphasized communicative competence and cultural understanding. Reflecting these goals, instructional approaches have shifted from the grammar-translation method to communicative and functional approaches. A teaching-English-through-English (TETE) policy is one of the more recent phenomena. However, the curriculum rhetoric has not been realized in most TEFL classrooms. Among the many reasons for this failure has been a lack of “real life” experience in using English. Teachers have not felt competent and confident enough to conduct their English classes according to mandated designs. These facts, and others, have led some parents to send their children to English-speaking countries, which resulted in enormous capital outflow and, more importantly, a new social stratum called “the English divide.”

English Immersion Programs

Immersion English programs have emerged in Korea as an alternative approach to learning and teaching English, such as through English camps, English villages, or even English zones, where participants learn English while feeling as if they are in an English-speaking country. This recent innovation is expected by many to be the “magic wand” that resolves all these English language learning controversies. However, setting up an immersion program in an EFL context like Korea has brought in another set of issues and challenges, such as facilities, program orientations, and “native speakers,” to name a few.

English Camps

No one really knows the number and variety of English camps offered in Korea. They are not licensed or governed by government or other authority, and many come and go over a year or two. A review of job notices on Dave’s ESL Cafe ( in summer 2006 suggests there may have been over 100 camps on offer. Most of these were residential programs, typically of 2-4 weeks duration, though winter camps seldom run four weeks, and are frequently day-camp only.

Camps come in a great number of varieties. Some camps seek to find a niche in the market in terms of special activities, whereas others are not so different from a full-day language school program, plus evening activities if a residential camp. Most emphasize the use of native-speaker instructors and bilingual support staff. A few camps develop intensive infrastructure similar to the English villages in terms of visits to a make-believe immigration office, post office, restaurant, etc. Camps range in size from 40 to 400 campers per week. Most residential camps make use of university dormitories, though there may be special facilities for instruction and play. Even where government subsidies are available, financial concerns are prominent: either a profit orientation or a resource limitation (or both!).

A Korea-Japan English Camp

One camp with a cross-cultural learning component is a Korea-Japan English camp held in South Korea. This two-week program was developed for Korean and Japanese students and implemented at the International Culture Education Center of Honam University, with the participation of a high school in Gwangju, in cooperation with the Japan-based Association for International Education for High Schools in Kanagawa and the Japanese Council on International Educational Exchange.

A total of 57 students participated in the camp during the first year: 44 Korean students in grades 4-11 (25 boys and 19 girls) and 13 Japanese students in grades 11 and 12 (2 boys and 11 girls). According to student self-evaluations, the majority were beginners, with 15 intermediate and 1 near-native English speaker. None of them, except one Japanese girl, had visited any English-speaking countries or had any prior English camp experience. They were placed in three co-ed groups, based on their school year, not English proficiency, and their groups were named in colors: Yellow, Green, and Blue. Student placement for the classroom and dormitory was done principally to maximize intercultural experiences between Korean and Japanese students, which was one of the major goals of the program.

The camp was held on a university campus. 60-hours of English instruction were given in multi-media equipped classrooms. Special activities were held at Honam University's English Experience Language Center, which houses an English café, self-access learning center with tutorial, reading and Internet corners, and a multi-media room. These facilities were built a year before the camp for promoting real life English learning and speaking experiences.

The university dormitory and student union building were used as core facilities to maximize the English immersion experience. A variety of specially prepared Western and Asian food was served to participants at every meal. English food labels were placed on tables and a daily snack coupon was provided to students. Camp assistants helped the store clerk communicate with students in English. English signs were posted at the store and throughout the camp.

Breaking Stereotypes of English

Some argue that American culture has influenced Korean society for many years and has been pursued by many Korean people for ‘globalization’ (Armitage, 1999; Lee, 2000; Min, 2000). Such an America-centered orientation has misled Korean learners of English by over-generalizing and stereotyping English speakers, their language and culture. Therefore, it was one of the goals of this program to break this English stereotype and bias that students had by providing them with regional varieties of English and their respective cultures. As models, there were 6 native English-speaking instructors: two males from the US, one male from the UK, one male from Canada, one female from Australia, and one female from South Africa. All had a master’s degree in TESOL or education-related fields and TEFL experience of two to more than ten years.

Three Korean-English bilingual assistants worked as aides for the instructors and students. They also served as residential assistants and group leaders. Two Japanese teachers, 1 male and 1 female, served as chaperones for the Japanese students. They participated in the program as classroom observers and program reviewers. All the program staff and participants were asked to speak English throughout the camp, but there was no penalty given for speaking Korean or Japanese, which occurred from time to time, particularly during breaks.

Goals and Theme of the Program

The two program goals for the camp were:

  1. to attain communication skills in English, both spoken and written
  2. to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of other cultures

In order to achieve these goals, the curriculum consisted of four parts:

  1. Language Skills ¬– pronunciation, listening, speaking, reading, writing, and culture
  2. Special Activities – music, movies, sports, and English for the Internet
  3. Group Projects – a talent show and group presentations
  4. Cultural Exploration – a visit to historical sites and the local community

The theme of the camp was From "I" and "You" to "We." The first week of the program was meant to be a time for the students to realize individual, national, and cultural differences among them. The second week was for them to get adjusted to each other and to the target culture as well as to build a bond and common ground as one and the same human species through learning English as their lingua franca.

A core textbook was chosen and used for all core subjects: pronunciation, listening, speaking, reading and writing. In addition to the text, a variety of songs, games, and other materials and activities were used in order to activate and personalize student learning.

Camp Activities

Special camp activities such as movies, sports, music, and Internet tasks were organized to expose students to a diverse contextual English language and culture in a way that was natural, practical and exciting. For movie nights, the English Cafe was used as a movie theatre where students bought drinks and popcorn using coupons the instructors gave them beforehand. Students then enjoyed the movie in a fun and stress-free environment. In music class, the instructor presented several kinds of musical instruments, then played music and sang songs with the students. In the sports activity classes, they played soccer on the university soccer field. In the Internet English class, they learned about emailing and how to play computer games, which some of the students were already experts in.

A cultural excursion was made to Damyang, where diverse Korean folk arts are preserved. This allowed the Japanese students to learn about Korean culture and the Korean students to learn how to present their own culture in English to their Japanese guests. Different aspects of life in Korea were presented to the Japanese students through a local church visit and through a shopping spree in downtown Gwangju. Korean students escorted their Japanese friends, using their imperfect English skills with a perfectly meaningful purpose.

The talent show was like a cultural exchange forum between Korea and Japan, featuring Korean martial arts, Japanese dance and magic, and traditional costumes which highlighted the wonder of cultural differences. The final group presentation was organized and performed by the students. It showed how they got over their language and cultural differences, if not completely, and became friends through a common language spoken in different accents. The highlight was "Winter Love Story" (Fuyu no Sonata), a Korean soap opera popular in Japan. The Korean and Japanese students wrote the English script, performed in it, decorated the stage, and used special effects and gadgets. All of this was achieved in English.

Assessment and Outcomes

To reflect on the daily activities and get immediate feedback, one reflection journal entry per group was written up following a group discussion held each evening. Two other methods of evaluation were implemented. First was a personal letter from each student to the program director written as a class activity at the end of the program. In it, students were asked to write their thoughts and feelings about the program in general and what they had learned in particular. Second was an open-ended questionnaire which students were allowed to respond to in the language they felt most comfortable.

The results of the analysis of the student letters and their questionnaires were grouped into four major areas and are summarized here:

  1. Some changes were made in the students’ attitude toward learning English and toward the English camp.
  2. English skills were improved.
  3. Intercultural understanding and competence were enhanced.
  4. The students were motivated to further study English and other languages and cultures.

Intercultural understanding was found to be the area that developed most significantly through the program. Both Korean and Japanese students described their feelings and thoughts about this area most frequently and expressively.

Student Comments

  • First, I [didn't] like Japan. But I [met] Japanese [people]. [Now] I think [the] Japanese are kind. (Korean, 4th grade).
  • Japan[ese] students are very good. They are same[like] my friends. (Korean, 5th grade).
  • I was surprised that Japanese students came to English camp here but Japan sisters are very kind. (Korean, 4th grade).
  • [Foreign teachers] teach me a lot of [English] cultures. (Korean, 6th grade).
  • Teachers helped broaden [our] views to the world. The Korean teachers [helped] me and friends [studied] with me. (Japanese, 11th grade).
  • At first, it was difficult to get along with the Korean students because of the difference in culture and the way of thinking. However, as time passed by, I realized that we have a lot in common. (Japanese, 11th grade).
  • It was easy to get meaning across to my Korean classmates in English because of the cultural similarities. (Japanese, 11th grade).
  • I made many Korean friends. I am happy that I have a better understanding of the Korean culture. (Japanese, 11th grade).


Armitage, L.-A. (1999). Factors affecting the adjustment of Koreans studying in Australia. Australia-Korea Foundation.

Lee, N. (2000). Selling language, books, and culture. [Page no longer active]

Min, H. (2000). Official language and language planning. Bilingual Research, 7, 27-55.

Park, J-K. (2005). Professionalization of TEFL in Korea: The Road Ahead. Paper presented at 2005 Asia TEFL Conference, Beijing, China.

This is an edited excerpt of a longer article entitled “English Camp: Issues and Challenges” published in The English Connection, the national newsletter of the Korea TESOL organization (Volume 10, Issue 4, December 2006). Check out their website at: A more detailed description of this camp can be found in the article Korea-Japan English Camp: A Case Study by Prof. Joo-Kyung Park (2006) listed in the references on the left.

Joo-Kyung Park Ph. D.
Honam University,
Department of English Language and Literature,
59-1 Seobong-dong,
Gwangsan-gu, Gwangju, Korea 506-714

Robert J. Dickey
Gyeongju University,
School of Foreign Languages and Tourism,
Gyeongju, South Korea
Korea Tel: +82 016-834-0968


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