Saturday, July 7, 2012

"The Mentorship Has Ended But The Friendship Carries On" Part Three

The afternoon that I told my teacher that the next class I had was going to be my last was one of the hardest days I've had. I went in with a weight pulling me down, dragging my feet, but perked up a little as soon as I saw my teacher waiting for me. We went inside and walked over to our normal table but found a group of boys chowing down and all the other tables were taken (I again had to move my classes to later in the day so there were more people there). It was packed and the only table that was even slightly available was a table in the corner with a young boy (probably about thirteen) sitting, waiting for his food. Now I had seen this boy at Genkiyaki several times and knew that more than likely he would get his food on takeout. I knew that, but my teacher didn't. Seonsengnim nudged my elbow and said in Korean "Go and ask that boy if he can move so we can sit there." My eyes about popped out of my head. Asking the boy to share the table would have been a stretch but to tell him to move completely? I kind of stumbled in my words and finally just spit out "Me?" in Korean. He nodded and said "Yeah, go ask." the boy had kind of figured out that we must have been talking about him and didn't seem to appreciate the fact that we were speaking about him in a language he didn't understand. I had shot him over an apologetic look which was returned with a glare. I had turned to my teacher. "Seonsengnim, I can't ask him that." My teacher looked at my in half disbelief half amusement. "I ask you but your not going to do it?" I'd nodded. He shrugged, laughed and then a group of people got up and left their table so we sat down at that one.

As we worked through my lesson I went over and over in my head what I would tell him. Finally we were done with the lesson and the time for me to speak had come. I had told him I had something to talk to him about. He listened intently as I explained my situation and how my next class would be my last. He just kept nodding and saying he understands and it all makes sense but when I had looked up I saw tears in his eyes. I just about started crying there. I knew that in his old age he didn't do much anymore and that our time together was the thing he looked foreword to every month and there I was, taking it away from him. All I could tell him was that I was sorry. He told me it was okay and he understood, but his heart hurt. He said that he loved spending time with me and that he was very sad that we could not continue anymore. He got up and I followed suit. He walked me to the door and said goodbye.

I'd walked to my car where my mom and sisters were waiting for me. My teacher walked by and my mom had called out a "hello". He stopped and came over. My mom told him that I was very sad to be giving this up and that I would miss this time with him. He answered "Me too." and then after saying goodbye, he left. My mom had turned around to me and said "Gabby he was almost crying." "I know." I had said. She was silent as she pulled out and got onto the freeway. After a few moments she had asked me "Are you sure about your decision?" My heart said no, but my mind and mouth said "Yes".

I cried that night. I cried for the fact that I had taken something away from my teacher and disappointed him, and I cried because it had been the first time in my life that there was a male figure who loved and took care of me. He was the first father, or rather grandfather, figure that I ever had that actually cared about me spiritually and physically, who truly loved me and wasn't afraid to say so. It was hard. I knew though that even though our student teacher relationship had come to an end I would make sure to keep our friendship intact.

My next class was a very solemn one. though my teacher tried his best to make the atmosphere light. He got weepy off and on, as did I. To soon our class was over. My teacher did not give me homework for the next class, nor did he fill in my "job well done" spaces. Everything seemed so off and unfinished. A few moments after we had finished my mom and sisters entered in, though they kept their distance to let us say goodbye.

I had tried to find something to buy that would sum up how grateful I was to him, but I couldn't think of anything that worked, so I decided that I would make him a card and letter in Korean, something truly from the bottom of my heart that I could give him. It read:

Thank you soo much for all you have done for me up to this point, I promise I won't ever forget it!
I will work hard to continue learning Korean on my own. I will work my hardest to make sure I do it! So don't worry :)
I will continue to learn, I have to.
I will continue to work hard, to put my all in it.
I will write to you every month and continue to see you, I promise,
So don't cry Seonsengnim! You have been a a good friend and like a very dear grandfather to me, thank you for that. Again I am so very thankful for you,

Seonsengnim you are the best! I love you!
Your student,

He had started to cry and went over to me, hugged me and said he loved me too and that he too thought of me as a granddaughter. He gave me tips on how to continue learning on my own and told me to call or
e-mail if I had any questions. My mom went over then and thanked him and then took a picture of us together, and then with that he left.

My sisters all tried to cheer me up and even offered me kimchi (another one of my favorite Korean foods). My sister in law came over and put her arm around me as we walked out of my Korean class for the last time, tears sliding down my cheeks. She leaned over and said to me "Gabby, the mentorship has ended but the friendship carries on". She was so right!

Today I am learning Korean on my own still and hope to maybe enroll or take Korean (and Chinese) classes that are offered up at the local college.

I continue to talk to my teacher and send him letters once a month (writing letters in Korean is hard!) and we hope to start getting together more often. He has since stopped calling himself Seonsengnim (Teacher") but instead uses Halaboji (Grandfather) 
사랑해요 선생님!!! I love you Seonsengnim!!!

"The Mentorship Has Ended But The Friendship Carries On" Part Two

Sorry for the long wait on this post!
It's kind of long so I will apologize beforehand :)

 My Korean teacher and I soon began to get into the routine of things. Every Wednesday at 10:30 I would walk up to the restaurant and he would always be there before me waiting. After our lesson we would talk for a while and then he would fill these little spaces in on a sheet of paper to tell me how well I did (he was usually very generous but not because I actually did that well I'm sure!) He told me when we first had started that when all the spaces were filled up he would treat me to something. So one day (I think I had probably been with him for about two months at this point) in the middle of the lesson my teacher stopped, handed me his phone and told me to call my mom. He told me to ask her to come to the restaurant. I looked at him a bit quizzically but dialed and listened to the phone ring as my teacher sat there, grinning from ear to ear. My mom picked up and after I asked her to come she was like "Uh, can you ask him why?" At that time we were running a daycare in our home and there was several kids there that day that my mom had to tend to. When I asked my teacher said "All of your spaces are filled up, I'm going to treat you." He paused and then said "We are going out for lunch at a Korean restaurant, I want to ask your moms permission, tell her to come." I laughed a little on the inside and repeated all this to my mom who of course said that she would walk down. My teacher then added that he also wanted my mom to come with us and that we were going to meet his wife there and make it an event! My mom probably quickly threw some clothes and makeup on, asked one of my older sisters to cover for her and ran down to the restaurant. Well whatever she did in that short amount of time she looked nice when she got there :) We had all piled into my teachers car and started on our way.

As my mom and teacher (who were both in the front seat) were talking, I was trying to translate as well as I could for whatever they didn't understand. It kinda went something like this:
Mom: "Gabby, could you ask your teacher if he has any children that live near him."
Me: "Repeating it all in Korean (as best as I could)"
My Teacher: "Giving me the answer and then giving a question to ask my mom"
Me: "He says that he moved to America to be closer to them (as they had all moved to America before him) but most of his sons are pastors so they have since moved to different parts of the country. He asked if any of your children are married." and the list went on and on, but it was a fun time.

 When we arrived at the restaurant we were greeted by my teachers wife (Halmoni) with what my little sister and I (who is also learning Korean from me) call a deep belly-bow :) I think my mom was a bit thrown off and didn't know what to do exactly but Halmoni and my teacher were quick to make us feel comfortable.

I am pretty sure that everyone that was in the restaurant was 100% Korean and thus looked at my mom and I like "What in the world could they be doing here?" Although I have been asked several times if I am half Korean I was sitting next to my mom who is (at least looks) 100% Caucasian with blond hair and blue eyes :) My teacher and his wife treated us so well, getting us food, explaining to me what everything was and what the Korean names of them were, and also Korean table etiquette! I felt so blessed.

Another time my teacher at the beginning of the lesson told me again to call my mom, this time he wanted to take me to a Korean market. After my mom had said I could go we'd headed out. On the way he pointed out everything outside the car and told me their Korean names. When we'd gotten to the market he walked around with me and told me the names of everything, writing them down for me on a piece of paper. He paid no mind to the curious eyes watching us. After he had asked me if I'd brought money he picked a few things out for me to take home such as chestnuts to roast, roasted seaweed and a Korean cookie with algae on it. We went up to the cashier and as I was about to pay I realized my wallet wasn't there. I had left it at home! I just about wanted to shoot myself in the foot. My teacher smiled and said not to worry about it. He then payed for everything! I know guys your probably thinking "But he asked you if you had money on you! I know, I know....
After he drove me home I told him I would grab some money and pay him back but he told me it was his treat and just to take it :)

Gosh, just sitting here typing this I have to keep stopping in awe and saying how lucky I was and still am for getting to have someone like him be my Korean teacher! His job was just to teach me Korean, plain and simple, but he always went out of his way and treated me with love and care, as if I was his granddaughter.

My teacher often brought to classes with him old traditional Korean folk songs for me to take home and learn. He always wanted me to sing them before I went home to make sure I had the tune right (yes, right there in the restaurant!) After I had initially started classes I had to change the time to a little later on Thursdays so we usually had people sitting all around us after about thirty minutes into studying....yep I know. So at first I tried to sing very softly, he would scold me and tell me to sing louder! Finally (after many scoldings and him getting up and making me get up and sing) I just sang, haha. He always would encourage me by saying "Gabby ya ( adding ya at the end of a name is the Korean way to call someone close to you) you have such a beautiful voice!" and then would proceed to sing with me.

One day I had a cold and I was losing my voice. At the end of the class he asked me to sing Jesus loves me in Korean. I tried but my voice was just not going to do it that day. He asked me what was wrong and I told him about my cold. He jumped up quickly and said he would be right back. When he came back he was carrying a whole bag of cough drops and told me to eat one now and to take the rest home. One would have sufficed (though he didn't have to give me one either) but he insisted on giving me the whole pack and sending me home.

He was always so attentive and understanding about everything whether I had to cancel or whatever it was. He always made sure that we had little celebrations on Christmas, Thanksgiving, Chusok (Korea's equivalent to Thanksgiving) my birthday...etc And would always buy or bring me gifts such as things his wife made or my personal favorite ddok! (Ddok is a sweet rice cake filled with a variety of things, my favorite is the red beans though!)

I can honestly say that I don't think I would ever have gotten so far in my Korean by myself or with another teacher. He was kind and was never mad (although I did get scolded on several occasions) when I spoke to him informally (a big thing in the Korean culture) or if I didn't get all my homework finished on time. He would push me and always give me a lot to do telling me he did it because he knew I was able to accomplish it. After the first week or so he stopped speaking to me in English completely (well unless I really, really didn't understand something) and forced me to learn by listening to him and would always tell me "Gabby ya, say it in Korean. I want all your answers to be in Korean." Even if I didn't say it correctly he would tell me it was better that I tried than to have gone the easy way out and not tried at all.

Our bond went deeper than just student and teacher, we were true friends. God blessed me with being able to have a friend like my teacher, giving us a grandfather granddaughter bond that I don't really have with anyone.

Because of financial reasons I had to start going every other week but my teacher didn't want that to get in the way of me learning Korean so he charged less and made our classes longer on the days that I went. When he asked me what I wanted to do in life and I told him about wanting to work on the border of N Korea and China with the orphans he said as soon as I got the words out of my mouth that he wanted to make my classes even cheaper (he had already gone down quite a bit before) so that I can put more of my money and energies into working with orphans! He told me he was so proud of me and would continually pray for me and my family. I know, amazing right?!

Several weeks after this my family decided to move to the Inland Empire. My teacher told me that it was a long drive and that he didn't want my mom to have to drive all that way but I told him that I would try and continue to go. After we moved I realized my teacher was right and that it was very hard to go back in forth. My family had recently quit music classes to try to find new teachers closer to where we moved to so my Korean classes would be the only reason to keep driving back into LA. My mom was ready to just be at home with her family and not have to be making those drives anymore although she told me that even with all the driving she wanted my teacher and I to maintain our relationship, but I knew it was hard for her. I knew what I needed to do.

Continued in part 3

Gyeongbok Palace in Korea