Written by Emily Comstock ETA’08-09
In the teaching world, we say progress is never defined by test results alone. Likewise, in Korea, the progress comes slowly, sometimes in unexpected ways.
I know I have painted my host father somewhat unflatteringly in my mind. It’s hard not to see him through the lens of a nation steeped in misogyny, and I have unfairly projected stereotypes onto a man who is actually very kind and somewhat shy.
Since my arrival, there have been small changes in the household that would go unnoticed to the naked eye but to me symbolize great leaps forward. He has begun to follow my example in taking his dishes to the sink after finishing his meal, and while he himself didn’t want to help me with the laundry, he instructed his son to help. This is the same man who, however jokingly, told me I had a princess complex because I want my husband to someday help with housework.
He plays gruff at the dinner table, rolling his eyes and exclaiming every time my host mother and I break out our dictionaries. Most times, as soon as the dictionary is out, he’s up from the table and escaping for a smoke break. Sometimes he shakes his head and says English is difficult, others he feigns surprise and tells me how good my English is. He pretends to be irritated by the 20-minute conversations that my host mom and I hold, but I can tell he likes to listen.
Tonight, we were left to fend for ourselves. Mom and brothers left for a restaurant, and for reasons unknown, Dad and I sat down alone to our favorite meal of Korean pork and kimchi on the grill. We sat in silence for a while, which bothered me none. I’ve become used to long silences here. He, however, kept sighing and casting abaut for things to say that wouldn’t tax our mutual five-word vocabulary. Finally, he hoisted himself from his chair and asked, “Dictionary?”. I started giggling; I couldn’t help myself. Just as his wife does, he sang, humming out the syllables as he browsed. He searched, his fire-scorched hands thumbing the pages like one who is unaccustomed to books, and finally sighed. “Obso.” Not there.
We let the silence dangle for a few more minutes before I gestured to his soju bottle. “You drank little tonight,” I observe. He thinks I want some. I hasten to reassure him no. We lapse into awkward silence once more. Finally, he gestures toward my room. “Emily room. Me drink.” Through a combination of English and Korean monosyllables, we communicate that I will go to my room and he will have another bottle — it will be our secret. I make the universal “shh” symbol and then share a confession of my own. “On Friday, in America, I drink many,” I say in broken Korean. “Shh”. We smile at each other, united in our conspiracy against my host mother, and then, just as I wonder how many more miracles I’ll witness tonight, he clears the dinner table.