Wednesday, December 19, 2007

America "OhNo!"

Every once in a while I'm able to actually connect with one of my students. It's not hard to get through to them once we put aside our differences like skin color, nationality, age, race, political views, religion, and first language. After that, it's basically like talking to an old friend, we almost finish each others sentences.

Well, last week while talking to a student, I was interested to see how a young Korean viewed the United States. Being an "adult" now, when I think of America I get all of these "adult" thoughts that come to mind: Bush, immigration, freedom, war, etc. But it was enlightening when I realized my student didn't really care about any of those things, let alone know about them. He is one of my brightest students and here is what he said to me:
"Mr. Kroll, I no like America...before. I see Ohno, I think America is bad. You know Ohno?"

For those of you that can't remember, in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, during the speed skating short-track 1500 meter final race, South Korean Kim Dong-Sung was first across the finish line, but was disqualified for blocking Apolo Anton "Ohno", subsequently giving him the gold. The result reportedly upset many in South Korea (not just my student). After the race a flood of emails actually ended up crashing the International Olympic Committee's e-mail account with thousands of accusatory letters, many of which were death threats for Ohno. Even a "song of negative statements" about Ohno was made by Yun Min-Seok.

It was hard to believe that one speed skating race could influence so many peoples views about a country, but apparently it did. In America, Ohno was basically forgotten about just days later (until he popped up on "Dancing with the Stars" again), but here his actions are still remembered. In 2005, an estimated 100 riot police stood guard at the airport to prevent any harm from coming to Ohno when he came to South Korea for the Speed Skating World Cup. But Ohno won two gold medals, as well as the overall title at that meet while battling a serious sickness (losing 12 pounds over three days). This valiant effort of participating in a meet, in South Korea, when he didn't have to, and overcoming his illness reportedly won the respect of many South Koreans. But not my student.

After telling my student that I did remember Ohno, the controversial race, and that I was sorry the South Korean was disqualified, he said to me, "Ohno make me think America is bad, but then I meet you. I am happy I meet you. Now I think it isn't bad, America is good. I like America." So simple and to the point, he likes me as a teacher, I am American, so he likes America. His thoughts don't get clouded by what the other 299,999,999 Americans might be like. But his innocent statement challenged me to think about how many, seemingly non-important events, like a race, made me not like someone. The answer was PLENTY!

Most of the people I don't like, when I thought about it, I don't like them for some stupid reason. None of them cost my country a gold medal, actually in comparison, that almost sounded like a great reason to hate someone. But it's not, and it's no reason to hate an entire country.

So while day-in and day-out I'm pulling teeth to get my kids to learn English, it took one of them just a few minutes to teach me a little something about life. You can make anything a reason to dislike someone; color, race, ethnicity, nationality, or beating your team in speed skating, but that doesn't make it a good reason. I'm sure if Ohno was here teaching English here at Shinjin they'd love him even more than they love me.

I guess what I'm saying is, if my student can change, and I can change... well maybe Rocky said it best...


kkroll78 said...

I can't believe you used that clip from Rocky IV. I hate that sceen, one of the worst Rocky moments of the entire Rocky catalog. Worst speach ever...

However, I'm glad you are learning a lot from your kids.
Look forward to seeing you soon,

CAPN KARL said...

Ill have to disagree with Kevins view on Rocky IV. Rocky IV is not a good rocky movie....however there are 2 redeeming factors...1 the training montage(spelling?)....come on...climbing a mountain, chopping wood, squatting boulders...all in a beard...priceless.... and 2...Rocky ended the cold war! that speech proves it! its history...check the books...rocky ended the cold war, we are just lucky it ended up being caught on film.

get ready....will be there in 3 days.

Mom said...

What a rewarding and invaluable learning experience for you! I'm happy for you and your students.

I wonder if Sylvester taught abroad like you and got the idea from a similar encounter ;-)