*dedicated to Ji Eun and the Kim’s family

I met Ji Eun for the first time when I was still a 4th-semester university student. On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, I went to Ascott Apartment to meet my new “student”.

It all started a few months ago, when I was hired to teach Indonesian language for Mr. C.K. Seol, a new Korean manager in Samsung Corporation. The job finally led me to meet Mr. Seol’s superior in the corporation, Mr. Kim Bae Jung. Mr. Kim told me that in a few days, his family would flee from Bundang, Korea to Jakarta.

There would be 3 members of his family to arrive: his wife, his son, and his daughter. His son was currently a university student in the USA, so he would just spend a few days in Indonesia before flying back there. However, at that moment, Mr. Kim was worrying about his daughter. He wanted his 15 y.o. daughter to be accepted as a student in Jakarta International School, but the girl’s English was far from perfect. He had heard the fact that to be accepted in JIS, one should pass a series of examinations, including the famous TOEFL test.

At last, Mr. Kim asked me to give his daughter a private English lesson for a week; four hours a day. I was like … WHAT?!! I had suggested Mr. Kim to contact EF or other well-known English institutions to seek for a professional help. But I had no idea why he persisted to appoint me as his daughter’s mentor.

Let’s put it this way: His daughter could barely speak English. I can’t speak Korean (my vocabulary was limited to “annyong haseyo”, “cha”, and “kamsa hamnida” only). What could I possibly do to help this girl? I’ve told him the fact that I wasn’t the right person for this matter, and I didn’t think I have the capability to guide his daughter through the TOEFL test, either. He didn’t want to listen. It was finalised somehow, though I was still trying to protest …

It still came to my surprise up to this day. The next thing I knew, the next day I was standing in front of the Kim’s apartment with my friends, Victor and Mia (whom I asked to accompany me for the first meeting!). A boy around my age opened the door. Behind him was a woman (Mrs. Kim, I guessed). The boy is Ji Eun’s brother. He speaks English fluently, and he was the one who explained to me about the whole situation, introduced me to the whole family (Mrs. Kim speaks very little English, but she smiles a lot), and got me hooked up with his sister.

Ji Eun is a very shy kind of girl. She spoke in a very low voice, almost like whispering, and she only muttered one or two words in English during our first lesson … Oh, what a challenge! The next day, she was a little bit relaxed, and we got through the lessons … The funny thing was she always bring an English-Korean electronic translator with her, to help us communicate better. So everytime I said something she didn’t understand, she would asked me to type the word in her translator, and then she would take a look at the translation … then smiled and nodded. Then she would type what she’d like to say in Korean, and handed in the translator to me.

It was really funny, and quite sad, actually. Because I do want to know her better, but our conversation couldn’t get any further. A week had passed, and Ji Eun had gone through her JIS test. She was nervous about the result, I could tell it from her face. So did I. I felt responsible in some way. However, awaiting for the result, her father still wanted me to teach her English every Saturday for 4 hours ( because I told Mr. Kim I won’t be able to teach her on workdays — I have a class to attend!).

One gloomy Saturday morning, when we’re in the middle of our lesson, Ji Eun received a phone call from his father, and the next thing I knew, she was laughing and yelled,”I pass the test! I pass the test!”. I laughed and we were jumping up and down in her bedroom, excited. Ji Eun ran to the living room to tell her mom the good news.

The news had a big impact. It changed everything. Ji Eun became more and more confident, and so we’re getting closer by the day. She started to look like a little sister to me. We had a long chat during lunchtime and it turned out that she had so much thing to tell, despite her silence-mode last week. She told me how she missed Bundang and her friends in Korea, the sweet-potato pizza in Korean Pizza Hut, the fact that she loves to draw, read novels (Harry Potter and DaVinci Code are her favorite), watching horror movies, and working on mathematics equation (wow, she’s brilliant in maths!). She told me about a cute guy in JIS, her class-mate, her life in Korea, the fact that she felt lonely in Jakarta … the stories came from her mouth as if she had been struggling to resist the urge to tell it in ages.

Most of the times, I felt sorry for her. Her parents was quite tough on her, while she was a very sensitive little girl. Sometimes, when I felt lazy and she did too, we spent the whole afternoon listening to Yiruma’s CD or simply conversing with each other. Telling stories. Two months had passed. Her English had gotten much better, though the translator still helped us a lot…

Ji Eun had moved to Singapore due to his father’s job, and when I passed some Korean restaurants or watched Korean movies … she crossed my mind. It was an interesting experience. A unique relationship. The way we chat with each other by using our hand-gestures, drawing pictures … try to understand what the other side was meant to say.

The fact that a smile carries a thousand of messages, crossing all boundaries. Crossing cultures. The truth that different language is actually not a barrier to start a friendship. All you need to make friends is just an open heart … and probably, an electronic translator!


If you made it this, far, please say 'hi'. It really means a lot to me! :)

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