My co-teacher explained it to me best: “EPIK teachers are like celebrities in Yeongwol.”
She actually got a phone call from one of the parents yesterday, just to say that they had seen us walking down the street after school. It’s also a constant reminder that eyes are everywhere, and anything we do can and will get back to our employer. Constant vigilance!
The kids are particularly interested in our personal lives, and are especially bold when we are dressed down, outside of school. Two weeks ago, we were stopped at the grocery store by a gaggle of Jared’s 5th grade girls.
“Love?” one girl asked, drawing a heart in the air and pointing to us. “Love?”
“Yes,” we said, nodding our heads.
Instant applause erupted in front of the sauce aisle.
Recently, a posse of uniformed high school girls fell into step next to us as we walked to the center of town.
“Couple?” they asked. “Love?”
Again, cheers and squeals to our assent.
“I have boyfriend,” one girl confessed. “One hundred and twelve days.”
He’d better watch out. I’d be surprised if she wasn’t dropping hints on rings by day 200.
Yesterday we ventured out after school in shorts and t-shirts. Our students did double takes, shock registering on their faces when they realized that these gauche westerners were, in fact, their teachers. One fourth grade girl actually gasped, then turned back several times to confirm our identities.
We live in a fairly large apartment complex, comprised of about six 15-floor buildings. Not surprisingly, we share an address with many of our students.
Jared was unlocking the door when we heard an excited voice from the other end of the hallway.
“Sunsangnim!?” (teacher) It was a little boy perched on his bicycle.
“Yes, hello,” we said in unison.
He wheeled his bike straight at us, pointing insistently at our apartment.
“Yes,” we said. “We live here.”
He jabbed his finger at his chest. “Oh-ship-pail,” he said.
Using rudimentary Korean, we were able to figure out that he lives in 508. Once this exchange was complete, he leapt back on his bike.
“Bye,” he said, and pedaled away.
I think this is all going to my head. I find myself automatically expecting people, children especially, to be delighted when I smile and wave at them. This is not always the case.
“Hi,” I said, beaming at one of my first grade students when I saw him in the apartment complex today. He is an exuberant student, always first to jump up when we learn a new dance.
Outside of class? Not so much. He looked scared, as if wondering what his weird foreign teacher was doing following him home. I dropped my hand, remembering that not everyone knows, nor cares who I am in Yeongwol.
Fame is so fickle.