Teach Me English, Mister

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
In a letter to her mother, Min Kyung writes to her mother to inform of her stay in America and the challenges she's endured while trying to master the English language.

Submitted: January 16, 2014

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Submitted: January 16, 2014



Dear Mom, 

Can you believe it Mom? Now, I can speak and write in English!! I can’t even explain to you how happy I am, now that I know how to speak English. I know that you were worried when I first told you that I was going to be leaving Korea for two years to live in the United States and study the English language. Even though I told you that I would be enrolled at one of the finest universities in the country, I can still remember the anxious look on your face when you realized that your daughter would be living in a foreign country for two years.

I know we've kept in touch through e-mail and weekly phone calls, but I can tell that you were still badly missing your eldest daughter. The thing is Mom, I've had such an amazing experience here in America and when I return to Korea, I can't wait to share all of my adventures with you and the rest of the family. 

When I had first stepped off the plane, my heart was trembling with each step that took me further and further into this strange place. My first couple of thoughts were revolving around the observation of how vastly different this country was from Korea. Somehow I got lost and I wandered through the airport terminal for half an hour until I found the instructor from the college who was assigned to escort me to the university. 

He had been sitting on a bench in the watching area, completely absorbed into his cell phone. I probably would have walked right passed him if I hadn’t seen the large white sign with my name scribbled in permanent marker on it, sitting on the bench beside him. He had probably been standing around and holding that sign while waiting for me, but after waiting an hour for me and not finding a single trace of me, he must have grown tired and decided to wait for me on the comfort of the bench. 

Mom, when I saw my name on that sign, it made my heart race a bit. He had written my name in Korean, at the top, and then in English at the bottom. I was so scared Mom because I couldn’t even read my own name in English. I knew a few basic English words like “Hello”, “Thank you” and “Goodbye”.

I had walked up to him, feeling like those hikers we often seen preparing to hike up to those strawberry mountains because I had several bags hanging off my shoulders and I was carrying a few in my hands too.  I was basically a walking definition of a coat rack, but instead I had bags of luggage hanging off of me instead of coats. When I approached him, he didn’t look up at me, which was surprising because you’d think a sudden shadow falling over you might cause you to look up. I hesitated a great deal, before saying, “Hello,” in English, hoping that this would lure his attention on to me. 

He looked up at me immediately, a look in his eyes revealing that he had found who he had spent an hour or so, searching for. For an American, Mom, I had to admit that he was surprisingly handsome. He wasn't that much older than me and was probably, at the time, only three years older than me. He had dark, hair that was intricately lined on his head and soft blue eyes that had the ability to warm your heart when you looked into them. He reminded me of a light pole because when he stood up, he was so tall and thin, but not so thin that he was unhealthy. 

“Your name is Min Kyung?” he asked me this, first in English and then in Korean. 

“Yes, I’m here for the two year English course,” I had said in my native tongue. 

People walking by, glanced at us cluelessly, unable to decipher what we were saying as we spoke in language that was foreign to them. I can’t really believe it Mom, but he had later told me that he had never been to Korea before in his life. This is amazing because he's a foreigner Mom, and yet he was speaking our language so fluently as though it were his own. 

“The university sent me here to escort you back to the campus,” he had said. “My name is Jeremy and I’m also a student, but I’ve been hired to personally assist you in learning English.” 

“Okay, it’s nice to meet you.”

Mom, as I went to bow, since it is a common gesture that we perform at home to show respect, he reached his hand out to me and was expecting me to shake his hand. I quickly learned Mom, that this is what Americans do when they greet someone. We quickly laughed it off and we compensated by adapting to one anothers customs, by him quickly bowing and I quickly shook his hand, thus showing respect for both cultures, despite the differences in the way we greet one another.  

He then took all of my bags, I had about eight of them, and he took every single one of them, despite my protesting, and carried every single one of them over his shoulder as though they weighed no more than a feather. Jeremy led the way through the airport and to the parking lot, since he was familiar with the path, and then he loaded my luggage into the car while I took a seat in the passenger's seat. 

On the drive to the campus, he was quiet and I had suddenly become shy with nothing to say. I stared out the window, watching the landscape as he drove us to the campus. The university is by far the biggest building that I have ever seen Mom. I know that we have a lot of large buildings in Korea, but this building was about eight blocks long.

When we arrived there, I could only stare in shock as he led me across campus to my dorm. My dorm was a small room that consisted of a bed, a desk, two dressers, an empty book case, and a rug that was centered in the center of the room. There was a large window covering one of the walls, providing me with a glamorous view of the front of campus. I would often find myself gazing out this window whenever I thought about home. Jeremy placed my bags on the bed and explained to me that his dorm was directly across the hall from mine. 

“If you need anything at all, just come and knock on my door and I will come and help you.” he said this quickly and turned to leave. 

I wanted to impress him by showing him that even though I had come to America to learn English, I could recite a few words on my own.

“Thank you…Mister,” I had said this in English. 

He paused in the doorway and flashed me an odd look the way grandfather use to look at father whenever he tried to fix something. Jeremy gently smiled, laughed to himself and shook his head while walking out of the dorm. I felt my cheeks flush red as embarrassment quickly consumed me. I race over to the door to close it and then I pressed my back against it as I rolled my eyes. At the time, I was trying to figure out if I had said the wrong thing or maybe my pronunciation was off, but I felt foolish for attempting to say something in a language that I was unfamiliar with. 

I spent the entire day unpacking and decorating the dorm to make it feel more like my room that I had home since that I had to myself. As you know, the scholarship the had paid for the trip had guaranteed me that I would have a room to myself, which at the time I thought was great because I didn't want anyone to distract me from my studying, but after I arrived there I began to long for a friend that I could talk to. I was secretly wishing that I could share a room with another girl from Korea so that I could comfortably talk to her in our native tongue and not feel so far from home in this foreign land. 

Later that night, Jeremy came back to my dorm with burgers, fries, and drinks that he purchased from the university's cafeteria. It was my first time eating American food and to be honest, the taste was a little weird and I cringed the entire time I ate. Jeremy sat across from me, eating the food naturally as though it was a regular consumption of his diet. He laughed at me the entire time while I ate, amused by the difficult time I was having adapting to American food. 

“Do they sell any Korean food here?” I had asked him. 

“Nope,” he had said with this strange grin on his face. “Maybe in China town there might be a little Korean restaurant, but all the restaurants are closed, so this will have to do.” 

“It’s nasty.” I had confessed. 

“Don’t worry,” said Jeremy. “Tomorrow, your lessons begin. So eat up and get your energy because English is the second hardest language to learn and we have to start right away.” 

Oh Mom! I knew English was going to be hard, but the last thing I needed was for him to remind me.

The next day, he came to my dorm extremely early at about six in the morning. I wasn’t even awake yet and had to quickly dress while he waited outside the dorm for me to let him in. We began by eating a strange breakfast that tasted a lot better than the dinner I had consumed. We then spent the first day going over the alphabet and learning the sounds that each letter made. He was talking the entire time, but everything he said flew in one ear and out the other because I was still trying to make sense of everything that I was learning.

The first couple of weeks were the hardest because I was trying to adapt to a new environment, one that didn’t have the slightest resemblance to home, and  I was trying to absorb another language at the same time. Jeremy and I would spend hours going over the lessons in the books, then I would attend classes for half the day, and return to the dorm feeling completely drained. 

Mom, it was so exhausting and several times I thought about returning home. I know that you were so proud of me when you first heard that I had won the scholarship to come to America to learn English, especially because statistics showed that students were more likely to have a more accurate grasp of the English language when they studied it overseas than when they did back at home, but I couldn’t handle the stress that I was undergoing at the university.  

After about two months of studying abroad, Jeremy had arrived at my dorm one morning, but I had refused to open the door. I had gotten a poor score on an English exam and as a result my motivation and confidence toward studying the language was quickly deteriorating because back at home I had never received such a low score throughout my entire academic career. 

“Min Kyung!” he called as he pounded on my door one morning. “Come on, I know you’re in there, open the door.” 

I was lying in my bed with my head under my pillow, trying to pretend that I could not hear him, hoping that he would give up and go away, but after half an hour had elapsed and he had continued banging on my door, I had no choice but to open the door. Otherwise, I would have eventually developed a headache, due to the intensity at which he pounded on the door. 

“What?” I asked angrily as I flung open the door. 

“Why aren’t you dressed ? We have to start your lessons for the day.”

“I want to take a break,” I said angrily. “Your language is too…hard! English gives me a headache.”

“Listen Min Kyung,” he said as he walked into my dorm. “You think it was easy for me to learn your language? It took me years to become fluent in Korean. Anyone can learn another language, you just have to stay motivated and never give up. Now come on, lets start your lessons.”

I was quiet for a moment, allowing his words to sink into my head. He walked around my dorm, cleaning the table off, confidently as though it were his own, and placed several books on top of the table. After spending a moment thinking to myself, I was surprised when the same passion that I had felt when I first began studying had returned and my eyes lit up with excitement.

“Okay!” I said in English. “Let’s to do it!”

I quickly got dressed in the bathroom and while I prepared myself, Mom, I was thinking about everything that he had said. It really meant a lot to me and I think that is what had encouraged me to continue. It was really hard Mom, but Jeremy really is a great teacher.

As I moved further into my studies, he would work hard to help create study guides for me and invent several techniques that were designed to help me master the language. One trick he used was, while I was in class, he came into my dorm and placed sticky notes all over the dorm, with English words written on them. For example, if I wanted to wash my hands, there would be a note on the soap and I would practice reading it while I washed my hands. It was extremely helpful and made a lot of the material stick in my memory. 

I spent hours studying and Jeremy came to my rescue anytime I didn’t understand a topic. Even though he had classes of his own he was trying to tackle, he would always put his work aside whenever I needed him to assist me.

When my first semester finals came around, I was extremely nervous about my exams. My hands and legs shook as I was preparing to make my way to class. I was about half way to class when I heard Jeremy calling me and he appeared in front of me without me even noticing that he had been walking down a hallway that was nearby. When I saw him, there was a deep sense of relief and my anxious heart suddenly became at ease.

“Mister,” I said in English as he approached me. Ever since I had met him, I could never pronounce his real name and every attempt I made to say his name caused him to laugh, so I simply called him Mister. I then asked in my native tongue. “What are you doing here?”

“Listen,” he said speaking in English. “I know today is your big test and your kind of nervous.” He placed his hands on my shoulders and looked me directly in the eyes as he spoke, causing a warm placid feeling to over me as though I were being wrapped in a warm blanket. “Just focus and don't worry about anything. I know you can do well.”

Even though he was speaking to me in English, I could understand everything that he had said. Before I had a chance to thank him, he wandered off leaving me to enter the classroom alone.

The finals went surprisingly easily. As I read through the exam, I recalled every thing that Jeremy had said to me and his voice seemed to linger in my mind as I read through the test. I read each question that was written in English and his voice seemed to translate the foreign alphabet for me, providing me the answer to the questions. I was surprised when I was among the first five students to complete the test.

After class, I made my way back to my dorm feeling confident that I had done well. When I reached the dorm, I found the door was already open. I went inside and found Jeremy sitting at the table with a plastic bag sitting on top of it.

“How did you get inside?” I asked.

“I made a copy,” said Jeremy as he held up an identical key up that resembled my own. “In case you try to get out of our lessons again.”

“Um, okay,” I said walking in and placing my bag my bed. “Jeremy, I think I did well on my test. It felt so easy.”

“That's good.” said Jeremy. “Now lets eat.”

I cringed as I took a seat across from him, half expecting some new, tasteless American meal that he wanted me to try. As I picked through the bag, I was caught off guard to find that in several Styrofoam trays there were several dishes that were served in Korea. There was Kimchi, Soft Tofu Stew, Ramen, and several other dishes that we usually eat back at home. I moved slowly through the bag, studying each of the yummy contents inside the bag that reminded me so much of home. I stared up at him shock, tears slowly forming behind my eyes.

“How...how did you get this?”

“Like I said,” said Jeremy as he began to take the food from the bag and open it. “They sell it in China town. It's not far, it's only a three hour drive to and from campus.”

I suddenly realized why he had been in such a rush earlier when talking to me before I had went to class. While I was taking my exams, he had traveled a great distance to purchase food that reminded me of home. I can't even explain to you how thankful and grateful I felt to him.

While we ate, I listened to him tell me different stories about events that had happened on campus. The food tasted a little different from the way it is made back at home, but at least it was close enough. It was extremely delicious and after wards, Jeremy and I went and saw a movie. I was able to understand most of the movie and when there were scenes I didn't understand, Jeremy would quickly translate them for me. It was an extremely nice Mom, and the next day I learned that I had aced all of my exams.

I thanked him over and over again, but he refused to accept it, saying that I had done all the work and he had merely guided me in the right direction.

Mom, these two years in America have just flown by and I've adapted to the culture so much, while blending it with my own. I'm nearly fluent in English Mom and Jeremy doesn't even have to translate words for me anymore. We speak in English now and it's become the norm for me. I've made several new friends too and I really wish the scholarship would let me stay a little bit longer in America, but I have to return home in a few weeks.

Oh yeah and guess what Mom! When I return in a few weeks, Jeremy is coming with me to seek you and father's permission for marriage. I guess you could say my English lessons transpired into an affectionate course on love. When I began to fall for him, I found myself studying him more than I did my lessons.

I really hope that when we come to Korea in a few weeks you and father will approve of our marriage. I know you really wanted me to marry father's business’s partner's son, Sunggyu, but maybe when you meet Jeremy you will change your mind and accept him. I can finally pronounce his name and I really would love to be his wife.

When you get this letter Mom, I'll be sure to translate it for you, since you are unfamiliar with English. Maybe Jeremy and I could teach you, father, and Areum, if she's interested, English too. It's a difficult and fun, but I know with strong motivation we can do it. This might even inspire into you and father wanting to come back to America with me and Jeremy. If you do come Mom, you have to try a hot dog because it really is the weirdest thing in the world to eat.


Min Kyung

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