Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Kimberly in Korea: Kimchi Teacher

Ever since I was little, I dreaded kids coming up with nicknames. My last name is Cochrane, and in second grade, when I was eight, a creative, young boy, named Roberto, (yes, I still remember who it was … and no … I don’t harbor any ill feelings toward him …) realized that Cochrane and cockroach start the same. That’s really all it takes I’ve discovered, that first syllable.

Roberto called me cockroach on the playground, and I got infuriated.

“Don’t call me cockroach!”

But it stuck.

From second grade until about middle school, when students stop calling each other harmless names, and start being a bit more vicious, I was known as “cockroach.”

Since then, I have learned one valuable lesson. The more extreme my reaction is, the more often whatever it is will happen. It’s apparently quite entertaining to others, even to my friends, when I get riled up.

For the first two months of teaching in Korea, no students came up with nicknames. They were shy and sweet. They tried their best to pronounce Kimberly, though they usually turned it into Kim-bu-lin, and I was often asked if it was a Korean name. Three syllables, Kim being one of them. It must be Korean.

Suddenly, one day, when I was introducing myself to a new student in a class I had had for a while, and the new student struggled to say my name, pausing a bit too long after Kim, perhaps, Jack (eight years old and clever, just like Roberto) blurted out, “Kim … chi … Kimchi! … Kimchi, teacher!!” And laughed.

All the students repeated, “Kimchi, teacher!”

I shook my head and laughed. What else could I do?

Honestly, being called kimchi, a beloved Korean side dish, is hardly as insulting as cockroach. So, perhaps that is the real reason my reaction changed, not because I have matured or become more tolerant.

Also, I had met another Kim, teaching English here, whose students called her kimchi, so I anticipated it. I expected it. Perhaps because she had introduced herself as Kim, her students came up with this nickname right at the beginning. I was surprised how long it took my students to call me kimchi.

While Jack quickly returned to calling me Kimberly, one student in Jack’s class, Michael, latched on to the nickname. At first he used to yell, nearly pointing and laughing, “Hello, KIMCHI teacher!” when he went by the teacher’s room. I simply responded, “Hi, Michael,” shaking my head and laughing as my co-teachers acted a bit surprised.

Michael has been calling me kimchi for about a month now, and I realized that today he said it as if it was my actual name. He is no longer searching for a reaction. Perhaps because I just accepted it and said, “Hello, Michael,” he now greets me daily, in the tone of something said out of habit, with, “Hello, Kimchi teacher.” And I respond, “Hi, Michael.”

I’m sure the real reason he uses it, is simply because it’s much easier to say than Kimberly. Regardless, each day being called “Kimchi, teacher,” by Michael, brings a smile to my face.

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