Once in a great while, you get a student who stays with you forever. I don’t mean a student who stays in your mind forever (one you think about all the time but will probably never see again). I think teachers have a lot of those; you probably have a former teacher who wonders what happened to you and where you are. I mean a student who stays in your life forever. I have a couple of these students, and I'm unendingly grateful for our continued friendship and the things they teach me.
I began teaching H when she was a middle school student; she’s now a freshmen in university and studying to become a teacher!
She came over for dinner last week, and she started telling me about her boyfriend. I was surprised and delighted as she’d never spoken to me about romantic feelings or relationships before! She said she’d never really believed in love -- that romance was just something created by movies to make money. She didn’t think it happened in real life, and she certainly didn’t think it was going to happen to her… but then it did. And now she’s questioning everything. I find this fascinating because I don’t ever remember feeling this way; I started feeling heart flutters in kindergarten, and it just got worse from then on.*
We ended up having a lengthy conversation about sex, dating, and relationships in which she really opened up to me. Sex is a super taboo subject in Korea, even among friends, so maybe she felt more comfortable talking to a foreigner. She said that because they didn’t teach sex education at her school (Korea has an abstinence-only education program), she and her friends had taken it upon themselves to go to an independent sex ed class run by a non-profit, which I think is amazing -- I didn’t even know something like that existed here. Apparently they didn’t do a great job, though, because when I told her that she needs to have a backup birth control method other than condoms, she a) didn’t know that there were contraceptives other than birth control pills, and b) said she didn’t think she needed one because condoms don’t really tear or come off, right? I told her about the time that the entire top of a condom tore off inside of me and neither my partner nor I felt it happen. She looked suitably horrified.
She’s the first girl her boyfriend has kissed and her friends are telling her to have sex, but she’s not sure he’s the right person or that it’s the right time. Even though I have a totally different experience with navigating my way into being a sexual person, I understand the feeling of trying to figure out what you want versus what you think people expect of you (don’t we all?), and as a teacher who encourages critical thinking, it warms my heart to see that she’s engaging in sincere contemplation AND advocating for her own desires and needs.
In the midst of all this, she suddenly asks me: “What about you? You’ve never talked to me about this stuff!” “That’s because when I was teaching you, I was only dating women,” I said. “Given the political climate around gay and bisexual people in Korea, I didn’t think I should say anything.” “Oh,” she said. “Are you dating anyone now?” I told her that I had been seeing a guy recently, but he moved. “Then, are you bisexual?” she asked, TOTALLY UNPHASED by this secret that I thought would be huge. Thank you, Glee, for normalizing sexual fluidity! If only everyone had that reaction to coming out.
So, anyway -- she’s bringing her boyfriend over to meet me next week, which kind of makes me feel like a parent. A proud one. I may not ever have kids of my own, but as far as I’m concerned, my former students who are in my life for good are family.
*I recently found a journal of mine from third grade in which I’d written down the “hunk of the day” (which is SO HILARIOUS in and of itself) for every day over a two-week period; Wil Wheaton showed up. Twice.