Student sketches I: Seokhee.

Because you know I love those boys. And obviously all I do in my free time now is study Korean, chain-smoke, drink coffee and blog. Possibly misguided, in such a public forum, but fuck it.


My fluent English speaker. Chronic fucking fibber, I've come to discover. Obsessed with making it known that he has a girlfriend, that he fancies his homeroom teacher (Co) and that I'm not to be closer to any other student than him. In fact, I'm not to mention any other student with affection in front of him, or he will immediately invent a story about how they are an awful person who degrades weaker students, which he knows I despise. For example, today I mentioned Dukbum (who I'll get into eventually), who is his seonbae from last year. Seokhee is in the student band this year, and Dukbum was last year, so I wondered if they knew each other. Seokhee heard the affection in my voice for Dukbum and launched into a doosie about how Dukbum had smashed a guitar to bits upon graduation last year, and had ranted and raved about how he hated being in the school band because the other members didn't show him proper respect or do what he said. There is no way in hell any ounce of this is true. When I said as much, and Seokhee began to realize how well I know this student, he corrected himself by establishing that this story had come from another seonbae, and he couldn't confirm any of it directly himself.

Seokhee often rants about how much he hates "Koreans". Seokhee is sixteen, and at sixteen, most of us had a tendency to rail against whereever we were from, of course. I certainly had an earful to unload on anyone who would listen at that age about Texans, Southern Baptists, conservatives, etc etc. While we were walking home together one day, Seokhee noticed how people would slow down and stare as they passed me on the sidewalk. He went off about how backwoods Koreans are, and how he just can't bear to be associated with them. He had also been carrying on lately about how the first graders, who I've not taught yet, would not bow and greet me in the hallway.

I always take these little defensive attacks of Seokhee in stride, simply smiling gently at him and telling him not to worry about it -- if it doesn't bother me (and it doesn't), it shouldn't bother him.

But why doesn't it bother you? It's so childish and rude.

It doesn't bother me because close to nothing bothers me that doesn't come from a place of bad intentions. The students are just nervous and don't know what to do, I explained. They have probably never had a foreign teacher before, and they think that bowing to me and greeting me in Korean is weird and awkward, but they're also really shy about using English. They're obviously acknowledging my presence as I pass them, but they're just not sure what to do after that. They're kids -- give them a break. You all did the same thing when I first arrived. You needed to get to know me, and to find out that it's okay to bow, it's okay to greet me in Korean, it's okay to wave, and it's okay to say "hi!". You were nervous too, in the beginning. It had nothing to do with a lack of manners.

What about the staring? Don't you get tired of it?

Of course, I have bad days, like any other human being. But it's not so bad, most of the time. I've gotten quite used to it.

But doesn't it seem so childish to you? These people have never been outside... they will never go outside.... they're stupid.

They're not stupid. I had largely never been outside either, before I came to Korea. I didn't know it at the time, but I actually made a huge amount of ridiculous social blunders when speaking to my Korean students back in the States, because I wasn't aware of exactly how different cultures can be, and I simply didn't know any better. My students were kind enough to forgive me for this, never even actually mention it so as not to embarrass me, and to accept me as a friend and as a teacher, even though I'm sure I came across as quite stupid to them at times. I didn't have bad intentions -- I wasn't trying to be that way. I just didn't know what I was doing. If my students could be so generous with me, then I owe it to others to be just as generous.

At which point, Seokhee's face suddenly changed.

The truth is, 샘, when I first met you.... I was so nervous.

Were you really?

Yes. I was terrified, actually.

Why? You speak English fluently....

Yes. But I had never met a real American before. I only ever saw them on TV. I just wasn't really sure what to say or do.

You know, Seokhee, I was nervous when I first met you, too.

You were?! No... 샘 I know that's not true.

It is, though. You were the first student I could actually talk to. I had never been a teacher like this before, and I wanted to make a good impression on you. And I was also very happy to meet you. Because you were the first person I met in Korea who I could have a fluent conversation with.

I was happy to meet you too, 샘. Sometimes, I think like I am a foreigner, too. And I could speak English with you, and you knew about other cultures. I can't have that very often. And these days, I just want to talk to you more.

Seokhee, I'm always happy to talk with you. And I'm really happy that you always come by the office these days and stay and talk a long time. You've seen already that I'm not as busy as you think. You make my days a lot brighter, and a lot less boring. So keep coming to talk to me, anytime.

And he has. Almost every day, we talk for an hour at least. Today, I asked him if I could come to his wedding. He said, of course you are invited to my wedding. But you won't remember me then. I said, I will always, always remember you Seokhee. I'll be at your wedding. Promise. And I'll still be single.

Oh, 샘. I'll find a man for you by then. Don't worry.


Bonnie said...

So cute...where did he learn his English?

wakenda said...

I love this. Hearing you talk (reading you blog?) about your students always warms my heart. It also inspires me to be a better teacher myself.