With a door shut in my face, kids laughing and yelling in Korean on the other side, the Korean volunteer who came with me that day looked at me hesitantly and said, “He said, ‘go home.’ He was very rude.” One of the 12 students at the center, this small seven year old boy had not spoken to me much until this point. I could see the distrust in his eyes whenever I spoke to him. This was weeks into my time at Gospel Happy Home School Children’s Center, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this student. He was rough and didn’t get along well with the other children. The older boys would bully him, but he also frequently tried intimidation tactics with kids he felt he could get away with. It was tempting to just say he was going to be a problem child and leave it at that. But my teachers assured me that it took time for him to warm up to people. He was very shy, and the things we did to show we cared were not lost on him. It would just take time.
I wondered if time or effort would change his distrust of me – a foreigner assigned as his teacher, but I was willing to find out. And so I kept at it – still including him and trying to joke with him. Jokes were not received well. I could tell by his tone and body language that he thought my efforts were juvenile and he was above those things. I did my best to intervene on what looked like unfair horse-play by the older, bigger boys, though I was missing cultural and conversational context and hoping I wasn’t embarrassing him. Eventually he spoke to me more – calling me 똥리슨 (which is like Poop-lyson instead of Alyson). I decided to take this name calling as optimistically as possible – after all he was talking to me. I kept at it, trying to including him in games whether or not he played.
Slowly but surely I saw him warm to me. I captured his attention with spinning coins and sleight of the hand tricks my dad used to do with me. The kids were taken by my ability to draw on demand, and he impressed me with his English vocabulary of fierce predatory animals he wanted me to draw for him. He always made sure that each predatory animal had big sharp bloody teeth and claws. Perhaps he decided at some point I wasn’t so bad. By mid-year, this small boy, who slammed doors in my face and told me to go home was coming to me to play tag. Though he never stopped calling me 똥리슨, I can still hear him yelling, “Can you? Can you?” his way of asking “Can you catch me?” so I could run after him – always calling “Time!” right before I caught him. It didn’t matter to me that he always “won.” I was delighted that we were playing.
When the new school year started he stopped coming to the center. I asked the teachers about him, and they said he wasn’t doing well academically and would be back later. I wasn’t sure I would see him again, and I wondered what was going on in his life. Sure enough though, months later as summer break started for the kids and a few weeks before my work at the center ended, I was relieved to see him show up again – spunky as ever and calling me 똥리슨 again. I told him I missed him and he asked me to catch him again.
This has been expanded and edited from a 3 minute speech