saying goodbye to my student HyeonJin

Love each other without expectations.

I keep thinking of what the monk told us at the temple stay this weekend.
We should be able to say goodbye without regret.
Approach your relationships knowing they will end and begin, such is the nature of life. If you can accept this, you will be closer to the way.

Dr. Seuss says:

Image

Easier said than done.

Two years ago, I met HyeonJin, my English student, through a recruiter, and next month, we will part. I have a heavy heart.

HyeonJin was a lanky kid with a boy’s haircut and black-and-orange specs. She chattered on for 90 minutes about how she loved snakes and snails and eating live octopus and wanted to in-line skate on the moon. What a weird kid, I thought. What a weird, wonderful kid.

Image

Over the past two years, I’ve seen her hair grow longer and her face morph into a young lady’s. I saw a few fine hairs in her armpit yesterday, and I’m glad I’m leaving before her boobs pop out. I couldn’t bear this beacon of growing up.

Image

I’m so heartbroken to leave this wonderful child. I like my friends and my family here, but HyeonJin breaks my heart. I would teach her for free to spend time with her. I feel grateful for having met HyeonJin and her mother. They are special people, and all that HyeonJin is and is becoming is because of her discriminating mother.

IMG_2538

The woman is my age, if not a year older. She’s a single mother living with her younger sister and HyeonJin outside of Seoul.

As far as I can tell, HyeonJin’s father is not around. The only clues to their family life are that HyeonJin’s dad is in none of their family pictures. (They once had to cancel a Saturday class, because HyeonJin’s father was sick.) HyeonJin’s mom worked for a company until ~6 years ago, when HyeonJin was five. Beyond that, I don’t know what her source of income is, though often, I hear mom telling her daughter not to marry a Korean man.

Outside of these clues, I see HyeonJin’s mom’s sensitivity manifesting in her daughter. HyeonJin has read:

Momo
Walden
Please Look After Mom
Outliers

and other books her mom previews and and passes on to her daughter.

IMG_2757

IMG_2576

HyeonJin explaining how the devil and the angel live inside all of us, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

IMG_2578

said devil (dark) and angel (light)

So HyeonJin has been raised by this strong woman who loves horror movies and bungee jumping and takes her daughter to ballet, violin and English lessons each week. They are peas and carrots reading about life and politics.

Yesterday, HyeonJin talked about how unfair it is for the older generation in Korea to benefit from the labor of the younger generation. Sometimes I just look at this child astonished at what comes out of her mouth.

Image

i’m not smacking my student. hyeonjin told me to close my eyes, so she could give me her present.

Next to Steve, HyeonJin is the most empathetic person I’ve ever met and she’s only 11.

For example, we are making a magazine together, and HyeonJin insists on both of us taking “credit” as editors.

Image

She shares snacks when we meet for lessons, even if I tell her to finish the food. Lately, as we’re watching Mary and Max, HyeonJin has been disturbed to see little claymation Mary being teased by other claymation kids.

mary_and_max19

Maybe all children have this empathy to start, and only the ones lucky enough to be blessed with sensitive parents (or alcoholic parents in fact) develop and maintain this character.

We’ve had dinner together, HyeonJin, her mother and her aunt, and I’ve seen how easily they joke with each other and kiss and hug HyeonJin. In spite of not having a father, she is growing up in a household of strong, loving women and in spite of marathon violin practices, HyeonJin must know how much she is loved.

Image

Gah, I love her too.

I’ve tried to be mindful of the fact that though I’ve grown to love HyeonJin, her mother pays me to teach her daughter English. HyeonJin’s mom is investing her money and her her hopes for her child in the time we spend together.

The thing is in Korea, teachers are given a huge amount of respect and gifts by virtue of their role. If you’re not a total @sswipe, you feel sheepish and undeserving and work your tail off for your students.

Of late, HyeonJin and I have worked on projects. I wish we had started sooner. As artistic as she is, HyeonJin gets bored with conventional grammar work, so we created a magazine, which she named World, and she was the chief editor.

Image

Her latest project is to make a short movie, so we’ll brainstorm a story, and I’ll ask her to write a short screenplay and a cast of characters. *sigh* I wish we had more time.

Yesterday, HyeonJin’s mom dispensed with class and took us out for dinner instead.
I didn’t know what to say when they gave me presents. They have been too generous.

Her mother gave me a lotus-shaped lamp made of traditional paper and pointed out the lamp is tailored for use in America. It’s special, because HyeonJin’s mom has shown me a lot of Insadong and traditional Seoul, and we three appreciate the old over the new.

IMG_3489

temple dinner with HyeonJin and her mother

HyeonJin personally picked out a traditional, lacquered pen, because she thought it was a good gift for someone going back to school. *gulp*

Most of all, I was speechless at the album HyeonJin made.
She wouldn’t let me open it at dinner, and when I opened it on the subway train later that night, I was glad.

The silly kid thought I might forget her.

Image

Image

(though my time in korea is ending, our relationship isn’t. hyeonjin and her mom don’t have skype or the internet at home, so i will write or phone. i hope hyeonjin will visit the US or spend a summer with me, when she’s older. see, it is very hard to love without expectation.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s