Think back to the first semester. You know, those halcyon days when seeing a traditional temple was still a novelty and the mention of an organised trip didn’t send a shiver of revulsion down your spine. Back in first semester we were still busy trying to navigate our ‘flexible’ timetables, how to order in restaurants, and the seeming neon maze of downtown. All that adjusting and gallivanting didn’t leave time for much else, so extra-curricular activities extended to loitering on the street outside Gogos with a cocktail in a bag.
This semester we’ve got our shit together (to a greater or lesser degree) and we’re all making a conscious effort to be more proactive. One of my own efforts was joining a local non-profit, cultural exchange/mentoring programme that pairs native English speakers with Korean teenagers. The programme has provided me with a reason not to fester in my apartment watching old episodes of Made in Chelsea, plus the novel opportunity to interact with that alien species: the Korean teenage girl.
Working at an all-boys school has its perks and I’m pretty fond of the little toads. That being said, it can get a little Mad Men around here at times, which is down to the prevailing Confucianism philosophy that governs Korean society.
Despite evidence to the contrary (which I routinely plaster across the TV screen and wave beneath their noses in the form of handouts) a lot of the boys I teach would have me believe that their female counterparts aren’t in possession of brains or courage or strength, and that their passions are aesthetic only.
Despite admonishing my boys on a regular basis I realise now that I too was beginning to form my own uneducated ideas about Korean teenage girls. I’m ashamed to admit this but after eight months adrift in a sea of testosterone I crashed into the rocks of lazy ignorance. Based on a toxic blend of the boys’ warped depictions, fleeting glimpses of Korean teenage girls out in public, anecdotal stories from other NETs and the back catalogue of Girls Generation I constructed my notion of a Typical Korean Teenage Girl.
So meeting my mentee was something of a revelation.
For our first date I took her to the Cat & Dog Cafe, imagining that the chance to manhandle adorable balls of fluff over a cup of hot chocolate would send her into shrieks of delight. Well, the only person shrieking was me. Somewhat confused that she hadn’t been compelled to join me in cooing over the fantastically obese siamese cat darting in out of our legs, I presented her with my trump card: a hot-pink, be-stickered scrap book. Surely this girlish confection would inspire a TKTG reaction. In fact, her eyes did not moisten, and she refrained from clapping her hands together like a cartoon seal. Rather, she calmly accepted the gift and thanked me sincerely.
Since our first meeting she has continued to resist the role I was trying to force on her, going on to cooly discredit each and every one of my students’, and my own, silly assumptions, and remind me that people – especially teenagers! – are too complex to be typical.