The Growth Zone: My Visit to Branksome Hall Asia, Jeju, South Korea

Flying over the volcanic mountains, sandy beaches, patchwork of farmers’ fields, and orange orchards was surreal. I wondered how the Branksome Hall Asia (BHA) students felt when they flew into Toronto, Canada. Before my journey to BHA in October 2023, I was oblivious to the existence of Jeju Island, the largest island in South Korea, often regarded as the ‘Hawaii of South Korea.’ And now, here I was, hurtling down a rural road in South Korea towards BHA.

Branksome Hall Asia’s campus in Jeju, South Korea.

BHA, the sister school of Toronto-based Branksome Hall, has a longstanding relationship with ALIVE Outdoors. In grade 9, the students from both schools participate in a cross-cultural exchange. BHA starts their Canadian adventures with a week at Camp Arowhon in Algonquin Park. The BHA program is a highlight of the ALIVE fall season, watching students’ fascination with Canadian nature (beavers, squirrels, chipmunks, and if you’re lucky, a moose!), challenge themselves with new activities and foods. Throughout the week, we cultivate skills to go on a canoe day trip and cook lunch around a fire. It was unseasonably rainy and cold the first week of October (they arrived when it was snowing), but the BHA students demonstrated exceptional resilience, confronting the weather all while smiling. 

BHA students from the October 2023 trip can be seen here enjoying roasting marshmallows over a campfire while on a day canoe trip in Algonquin Park.

The grade 9 students were shocked to see me there. The grade 10s were excited to share their impactful Canadian experiences with me. The grade 8s were curious about Canada, and I was fortunate to present about the ALIVE Outdoors portion of their upcoming Canada trip. One student thoughtfully asked, “What mindset should I bring to camp?” “An open mind,” I replied, feeling a shared sense of enthusiasm for their upcoming adventure.

Alyssa giving a presentation to BHA students showcasing what their experience at Camp Arowhon will be like.

I shadowed a handful of science, design and humanities classes. I even joined the students for baking club! I was astounded by the commitment and innovative approach of BHA’s educators, and I was taken by the students’ dedication and growth mindset in their approach to their academics. Design class was novel to me- not a class I had in high school. The students develop ingenuity and problem-solving in this class, navigating new materials and design tools. Most importantly, the students demonstrate empathy and compassion, designing a product to address end-users’ needs beyond themselves, such as their parents or a friend. In grade 8, they create a product to help them with their Canadian adventures. At the end of the week, the grade 9 students kindly invited me to their skating class. It felt fitting for a Canadian international school to have a skating rink.

My conversations with the grade 9 students I met in the fall were the most impactful. The students shared that they missed the serenity, fun and mindfulness we nurtured in Algonquin Park. An interesting highlight of their trip was also the Canadian grocer Loblaw’s. Several students expressed feeling stressed and worried about upcoming exams; I empathized with them and tried to connect how the soft skills we embodied at camp and wrote on our rocks could help us with challenges in our daily lives. A handful of students shared that their rocks were displayed in their bedrooms, symbolizing what they took away from our week together in the Canadian wilderness.

Some of the rocks that were created during the gratitude circle that Alyssa facilitated.

I facilitated a gratitude circle with my group to conclude BHA’s fall program. I wrote “Impact” on my rock. The BHA students had a profound impact on me in October. Visiting BHA on Jeju Island and learning about their culture and community has been profoundly impactful. The school’s emphasis on stepping outside your comfort zone, having an open mind, and cultivating meaningful relationships is evident in every interaction. My experiences at BHA have reinforced the importance of these values and their role in personal growth and cultural exchange.

I am deeply grateful to the BHA staff and students who welcomed and hosted me throughout my week at BHA. Your warmth and hospitality made my visit truly memorable. All of us at ALIVE Outdoors look forward to welcoming you to Canada in October.

Alyssa and Morgan Murphy, a faculty member of BHA.
Alyssa and Morgan Murphy, a faculty member of BHA.
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A tea field in Jeju.

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