Sunday, April 23, 2006

did I lose a student?

While lumber-waddling over to the office earlier today, I encountered one of my current students. She shouted my name from across the street (people usually see me before I see them; I chalk that up to my wrapped-up-in-myself introversion), and I shouted a "Hello!" back. I had to cross the street, anyway, so I looked both ways and then walked up to her.

Before I crossed, my student shouted something in English that included the word "boyfriend." I had an inkling as to what that was about, and she confirmed it once I was next to her:

"Kevin! I want to boyfriend!"

The above sentence meant one of two things:

1. "I want a boyfriend," or
2. "I want you to be my boyfriend."

I had a sinking feeling that she meant (2), so just to be sure, I asked, "You want a boyfriend?" She nodded vigorously. I followed up with, "Where can we find one for you?" She smiled coyly and grabbed the sleeve of my jacket.

"You know!" she said with a snaggle-toothed smile and giggle.

How the hell do you extricate yourself from such a situation? I dodged the implied question in her eyes and mentioned that some of the students from our class were planning to meet with me for lunch this coming week. Because she'd been absent on Wednesday, she hadn't heard about the plans. I smiled and told her that I might be seeing her next week for lunch along with everyone else, and silently prayed that that would be enough of a dodge to get me out of this conversation without hurting her feelings.

"Well, enjoy your sandwich!" I finally said, pointing to the toasted sandwich she had in her left hand.

"I can't!" she replied as we said goodbye and parted ways. Ah, sadness.

I haven't had that sort of encounter in years, and had thought that most of today's Koreans were more sophisticated in how they approached foreigners these days. I remember getting requests in the 90s along the lines of, "I like you! Will you be my friend?"

Then again, I may be wrong. I received an email from someone I'd met last Thursday. The email read in part:

our talking time was short .

but It was so fun and very nice-^^

I think you are fun and very nice guy!!~

I hope that we be gooood friends-^^

The above isn't a "lust note" by any means; I take it as purely innocent. But it's an uncomfortably direct display of feeling which I've never gotten used to. I'm a cowboy at heart, I suppose... a stereotypical American in terms of my preferred mode of interaction with friends. You don't announce or proclaim your friendship; you simply become friends. The process takes time and perceptivity, and there's no official moment when it happens.

My Korean buddy Jang-woong, whom I've known since 1994, probably understands this the best of all my friends in Korea. We can do the old geezer thing: make a brief remark, then spend a few minutes just chewing on the thought and nodding our heads sagely while staring off into the distance. Heh... you can almost hear the harmonica, smell the baked beans, and see the Conestoga wagons. I think Jang-woong was American in a previous life.

It was hard to tell how serious my "I want to boyfriend!" student was today. She didn't look particularly crushed at the end of our exchange. I'm kind of hoping she simply skipped merrily away, gnawing her sandwich with those topographically unique teeth of hers, all thoughts of budding intimacy with her plump English teacher forgotten.

But there's a chance that she was serious-- that she took a big risk in shouting out her feelings to me for all the street to hear. She might have been shamed enough by my weaselly rejection to decide that she can never again show her face in class. After I upbraided one student in a different class about cell phone usage, that student stopped attending. It's an immature reaction, but not uncommon.

So I have to wonder: did I lose a student today? I have no class this coming week, but if she's not in class two Mondays from now, I'll know something's up.

The weird thing is this: in class, she has often loudly proclaimed that she has a boyfriend.

Not that any of this matters. The student in question is actually one of my worst: in class, she whispers while I'm talking, often uses Korean instead of making an effort to speak in English, and doesn't seem too intent on actually learning. There's very little I find attractive about that.

UPDATE: I should note that I'm about as good-looking as Woody Allen, so I can't attribute this female attention to any facial or bodily charms. I suppose some students like my in-class personality, which is pretty animated and often reminds the ladies of Jim Carrey (perhaps Drew Carey is more apropos). I always protest that I'm an introverted person, but I keep hearing that collective "uuuuhhhhhhhhh" of disagreement from my classes-- the Korean equivalent of "uh-uh," i.e., "No, that's not true."

While I'd love to delve into Jungian psychology and discuss "shadow sides" and the like with my students, I usually keep it simple and just say that, during class, I'm pretty energetic, but outside of class, I'm pretty boring. To my readers I would submit that this doesn't represent some sort of insidious, two-faced way of behaving: on the contrary, I think most of us have a "public face" and a "private face." Students who visit me in the office after a day's teaching are usually treated to the quieter me.



kwandongbrian said...

The author Pico Iyer described a situation similar to yours - or, anyway, his explanation for the situation. With limited English skills, a person who wants to be understood has to speak simply.

You do get circumlocutions (is that the right word) as in a student who recently told me to look for the milk colored paper - she forgot the word, 'white' - but those are forced on the speaker rather than a way of being clever or using innudendo.

Joel said...

I hope when I move to Seoul I get some of this crazy stalker love. I must have some curse. All the girls I meet are fairly grounded and reserved. Dammit!

Anonymous said...

brian, 'circumlocution', or 'periphrasis', is generally used to describe how a term can be substituted for several, or "more than one but less than many". But, it can be used to describe how a learner of a second language will substitute an unknown word with a known one. So, yeah. You are right. It's a circumlocution. But, you could also say that substituting 'white' with 'milk' was an anthimeria (milk was used as an adjective), although that probably wasn't her intention.

Oh, and if she'd used the Korean word for 'white', she would have been 'code-switching'.

Anonymous said...

By the way, Kevin, the student I mentioned to you a few times has not dropped out of my class. It's entirely possible that you didn't lose that student. I get this kind of thing quite a bit, both from my first year students, and from random girls in the hallways, believe it or not. It also happened to me once with an elementary teacher who was in our adult program at my old hagwon: she actually said, in front of everyone "I love you!" A colleague told me this used to happen to him quite a bit, too, when he was younger. He said nothing much usually comes of it.

As for you, I'm quite certain that your particularly nice face, together with your gentleness and hilarious humour, will cause many of your students to develop feelings for you.

Anonymous said...

My point being that I doubt she will stop attending due to a rejection, whether or not she recognized it.