Guidance Counselor in Korea

Contributor: Chris Wilkensen

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I was standing in front of twelve Korean teenagers. I was their writing teacher, but their behavior made it seem like no adult was in the room. Most of the kids were talking to each other in their native tongue, except for one. He never talked. Then, he asked me a question.

Just before, I was trying my hardest to quiet the students down. I wanted them to like me, so I didn’t yell at them. Sometimes, I felt more like a guidance counselor than an English instructor. Reading essays about poor kids getting belted for bad grades. I couldn’t find it in me to yell at these students.

If the students weren’t chatting, they were asleep. They would tell me they were too tired to study. I could understand. School was seven hours a day. After-school learning institutions were nearly three hours a day. And they had homework from both.

Handsome. Kind. They would use these words whenever I cleared my throat or spoke in a lower voice. I didn’t hear compliments about my looks often. And I couldn’t prove them wrong about being nice. Most of them were thankful for the freedom I gave them.

“Did you ever want to die?” It was the first time the boy spoke in the semester without being asked something. I chuckled at his query.

“You’re going to kill me?” I heard all those jokes before. The academy would be set on fire, all the teachers would be ablaze. Then, the children could finally be true children and not studying machines.

“No.” He gazed into my eyes. Meanwhile, the class was still lost in conversations.

“Why would you ask that?”

“Because I want to die.”

Leaving the room and sprinting through the halls to find the institute’s director, my boss, I heard the fire alarm go off. All the classrooms scattered into the hall in moments.

Afterward, I told my boss about the conversation. He didn’t believe me. The next time I lost control of my class, I would be on a plane back to America.

The boy sat in his usual desk two days later. He sat in the corner by the door, away from everyone else. The rest of the class was either talking or playing cell-phone games.

“Why’d you do it?”

“I’m sorry, teacher.”

“It’s okay. But why?”

“I wanted everyone to listen to me.”

“I can listen to you.”

I wrote my e-mail address on his desk, and he copied it into his notebook. It was safer. My phone number would probably change, especially since I was one mistake away from America.

We high-fived. Then, I walked to the door, opened and slammed it. The kids were tranquilized.

“Less talking and more writing.” I folded my arms and grunted. “Now.” Almost everyone sighed.

The boy looked up at me and smirked his lips to one side of his mouth, his happiest countenance yet. As time allowed, I would be his real teacher and his unofficial guidance counselor.

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Chris is a scribe from Chicago who teaches English as a Second Language in Daegu, South Korea. After graduating college amidst a recession, he stopped stalking the American dream of a white-collar career and headed to Korea, where people wanted to flee to his homeland. His work has appeared in The Stone Hobo, Pulp Metal Magazine, Curbstone Collective and Combat! Chicago.
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