With the final exam less than one week away, I’m currently getting some very intense Korean speaking practice. Every afternoon, a line of students forms outside my office, all waiting patiently for a one-on-one session with me. Their questions vary, but a common factor is that they all prefer to ask and receive counseling in Korean. I’ve bought a whiteboard and patiently demonstrate the macroeconomic theories to each of them in a combination of Korean and simple English. Having counseled close to 80 students over the past few days I cannot help but see that they seem to have several traits in common. In fact, I can probably group them into four types.
The shy girl: This type is very quiet, speaks so low that you can barely hear her, and the slightest comment about how she should have started preparing for the exam sooner, will bring tears to her eyes. She is so shy that she’s even afraid to bring a friend to accompany her to my office, and her biggest fear is being faced with what she doesn’t understand. I’ve realized that this group of students requires special attention, and specifically, I’m striving to build her self-confidence by encouraging her to solve problems on my whiteboard, so that she can realize that she can, in fact, understand economics. This type usually enters my office with a very meek almost sorrowful expression but ends up leaving with a smile and increased understanding.
The chatty girl: Many of my female students are really good at English, and sessions with me are chances for them to practice their English skills. They usually also have a really good grasp of economics and start most questions with “Isn’t it right that…” or “Have I understood this correctly?” They always have. If there are no other students waiting, the talkative girl will digress a lot between asking questions, telling me about boyfriends, family members, weekend plans, etc. If I don’t stop her, the situation could easily be mistaken for two girlfriends chatting about whatever, and not a student-teacher counseling session.
The soldier: About half of my male students have completed the South Korean boy-to-man ritual of 2 years’ service in the Korean army. Several of my students are newly discharged from the army, and the way they behave themselves in front of me appears to reflect two years of strict hierarchy and discipline. Whenever I have a “soldier” in my office for counseling, he will always start with a deep bow and speak in a way that resembles military jargon (think the way Song Joong Ki speaks in Descendants of the Sun). When I explain something to this type of student, he will answer with a confident “네 교수님, 알겠습니다!” meaning “Yes, professor, I understand!” They don’t waste any time with small talk, but they do occasionally tell me about their time in the military. Although this is mandatory for all able-bodied Korean men, they each take a certain pride in having completed their service. One of them, for instance, would tell me how he had brought textbooks to the military base and would study every night in the barracks as to not fall too far behind with his studies, even though he was tired from the hard exercise. I cannot help but admire such determination, and I generally also see a difference in the performance of my male students before and after their military service. They just seem to “grow up” while in the army.
The lazy boy/girl: This type can come in both male and female form, but luckily they are few. The lazy students enter my office expecting me to just pour knowledge into their heads like a gas station worker fills up gas tanks. They are usually as obnoxious and ignorant as Cheon Song Yi, in this clip here:
They blatantly admit not having bothered to study as they “find economics boring”, and I usually send them away with an invitation to come back once they know what questions to ask me.
I gave the last lecture of the fall semester yesterday, and I cannot help but feel that this semester has flown by way too quickly. Luckily, I’ll be teaching in the winter term too. Can’t wait to meet all my new students in a couple of weeks. I wonder if they’ll fit into the same categories…