The biggest brother in the world.

I really don't know how to explain Yeongjin. His homeroom teacher says that he's "special", and he is, but I somehow don't get the sense that there's anything physically wrong with him. Yeongjin is just.... very, very slow. Bright. But slow. Eager, but slow.

He rarely has very much of an idea what's going on in class, although he does sit intently watching and smiling and calling out whatever word comes to mind, which he supposes might be the answer to something. But he's never bullied by the other kids. He's big for his age, already, in a tall and broad, muscular kind of way, probably because his main activity outside of school is Taekwondo (and he's quite good at it, from what I hear). And his "special" status has not seen him hesitating one iota from taking a dominant social position. The smarter boys can get a bit fed up with him from time to time and snap, but Yeongjin just pulls himself up to his full stature, sticks out his chest and asks them who they think they're talking to.

Point taken. They may grumble into their chests after that, but they know that technically Yeongjin is right and, at least at this point in life, muscle has got brains beat.

But he's incredibly gentle. Soonhyeon the Crier is now a third grader, along side Yeongjin, and today was a crying kind of day for Soonhyeon. I don't know what started it all, but the crying was so hysterical that it resulted in a nose bleed. Soonhyeon is smart, but very small, and therefore not nearly as immune to teasing as Yeongjin is, but Yeongjin somehow seems to know that there but for the grace of God -- he could easily be in Soonhyeon's shoes.

So it was Yeongjin who swatted the giggling students away and guided Soonhyeon down the hall to the bathroom.

Yeongjin, for all I can tell, has half a million little brothers. Anywhere I go in my neighborhood, if I stand in the same spot for longer than thirty minutes, I will see Yeongjin being trailed by little brothers. If Yeongjin and I are walking together, we will be greeted by dozens of little brothers. The only explanation Yeongjin has ever had for these kids is that they are little brothers. I realize now that they are probably boys from the dojang. If I run into him while he is with one or two, he will tell them quite strictly to greet me and then demand that they speak English. They will grab his hand and hide behind him when I lean over to talk to them, and he will laugh and push them around back to the front, until they smile. They like him a lot, and evidently trust him, as well.

Yeongjin is turning out to be the third grader who hangs around. Every morning, break time, lunch and afternoon, Yeongjin comes in. And he absolutely refuses to speak Korean. He never, ever has. Outside in the street or here at school, Yeongjin will stand there and struggle for five full minutes before he will say something in Korean. His English, obviously, is not great. So this is what he does: He stands in front of my desk and points.

"Chair. Book. Phone. Computer. Headphones. Stapler. Tea. Cup. Pen."

For the first few weeks, this was all that he would do. He would point and name things, over and over and over. I would nod and say, "That's right. Good job, Yeongjin." I would tell him the name for anything that he didn't know. And when he finished, he would just start over again. Right back at the beginning. When the bell rang, he would bow and leave.

Now, he's working up to making actual sentences. Today, he tried to tell me that his teacher had taken another student to the hospital: "Teacher. My teacher. Student. Car. Hospital." Every now and then he will tell me that he's hungry, or that the weather is cloudy, or that he's tired. But mostly he still makes lists: sports, foods, types of weather.

When his teacher comes in and asks him what he's doing, he just says, "Speaking English."

The thing is, I reckon this kid hasn't got a half bad idea. And I wouldn't be surprised if, by the end of the year, he really was speaking English. I have no idea why he wants to, but he sure is making an honest go of it. I, for one, would love to see him move up to A ban before the end of the year. The look on his classmates' faces would be priceless. I'll bet the farm he can do it, too.


Esti said...

Love this post. Great story. I can picture Yeongjin with all his little brothers :) I love hearing about characters from your school.

Jake said...

Haha. Yeongjin sounds like a cool dude.

Emmalee June said...

I like the sound of Yeongjin :) And you say he is a third grader, but that's not the same grade as an "American" third grader, is it?

Jake said...

Right, Emmalee June. When people talk about school grades in Korea, they are referring to the grade within that particular level of education. For example, there's elementary school third grade, middle school third grade, and high school third grade. When INP talks about third graders she's most likely talking about students in the third grade of high school, since she teaches high school.

Guaria in Asia said...

Most of my favorite students have been those who earn poor grades, but they try so hard that I wish I could give them and A for effort.