Meet Charlotte. She’s 7 and she’s hands down one of my favorite students at the English academy I teach at here in Seosan, S. Korea. About two months ago she walked into class randomly singing this song and has not stopped since. It’s called “Way Back into Love,” and it originally appeared on the soundtrack to Music and Lyrics. Sure the lyrics are a bit out of Charlotte’s league right now, but like any great performer, she just keeps plowing away whether she hits the notes or not. I’m sure in a few years she’ll have it down pat.
Sadly, today was Charlotte’s last day at the academy. In just three short days Charlotte and her mother Jini, who just so happens to be the director at my school, will be moving to the Czech Republic, or as it’s called in Korean, “Checko.” Once there, she will reunite with her father, who for the last year or so has been managing a major automotive manufacturing plant there. Jini bought her a cake today and Charlotte and her classmates devoured it, seemingly oblivious to the gigantic change that she is about to undertake. I guess that’s the beauty of being a seven year-old: why worry about the future, especially when’ there’s a cake on the table, right now.
While Charlotte and her mother seem relatively low key about the situation, it’s a bit bittersweet for me. On the one hand, I’m losing a big part of what I consider my “Korean Family.” Jini, Charlotte’s mother, basically took care of me for the first month or so while I figured out how to navigate everyday life. She took me to the doctor, got me a cell phone, showed me how to use my bank card and turn on my hot water. If I needed a hair cut, she took me down to the shop and told the barber how to cut it, the same way my mom did when I was a wee little kid. It was an odd position to be in. Here you are, 23 years old and yet you are totally reliant on a single person for almost everything you do, from eating to grooming. At times I couldn’t help but feel like I was being a burden, but Jini didn’t seem to mind. If I was an inconvience, Jini never showed it. She never once complained or made me wait. In fact she would often rearrange her schedule just to help me out. Eventually I learned how to manage everyday life without her help, but as far as I’m concerned, for the last nine months, Jini has been my Korean mother.
Then there’s Charlotte, who would easily fit into the roll of “little sister.” A endless ball of energy, Charlotte was always bouncing around the halls or the teacher’s room, asking questions or playing little games to keep her occupied. Mostly though, she was just singing. Or humming. Or some mixture of the two. Often times if she would have difficulty with a particular phrase or reading passage, all you had to do was turn it into some sort of chant or melody and she would jump right on it. I guess you could say she was an auditory learner.
So yes, it is not without a bit of sadness that I will watch them go, yet I know exactly how rewarding it will be for them to move to and experience a new country and culture. Once you get over the initial shock of the situation, all that’s left to do is take it in and enjoy it. Jini has always wanted to travel and Charlotte will attend an all English international school, so both will no doubt benefit greatly from the experience.
Even after all these months, I can still vividly recall the moment the three of us met. It was around 6 pm in the Seoul airport. I had just stepped off a 13 hour flight, collected my luggage, and stumbled out into a concourse feeling dazed and overwhelmed. It didn’t take long to spot them. They were standing behind a rope-barrier, backlit by the sun which hung low and filtered in through a wall of windows. Charlotte and Jini were there, along with Jini’s husband, who had made the trip just to come greet me at the airport. They were dressed up in nice outfits, smiling and waving, greeting me like a long lost friend rather than a new employee. Charlotte was holding a brightly colored sign with my name on it. My last name had three “M’s” in it. I gave her two chocolate bars. Her father gave me the keys to my new apartment. He smoked a cigarette, loaded my bags into the trunk of their white SUV, and with that we were on our way.
As a going away present I bought them a series of English books that hopefully they can share together, and maybe Charlotte can learn a little something from them along the way. In the end it’s a small gesture, especially when you consider that they have already taught me so much.