Would ‘Flower’ and ‘Sexy Lion’ please stand up?When I started teaching English at a university outside Seoul the old hands on the faculty suggested that I give the students nicknames. They even gave me a sheet for the students to write an English name of their own choosing. How silly, I thought. Not to mention demeaning for the students, who after all were young adults, not children.
Mentally rejecting the suggestion, I walked to my first class determined to use the students’ own names.
I entered the classroom and stepped onto the creaky stage that many Korean schools like to have their instructors stand on. I placed the class roster on the lectern, feeling more like a preacher in a church than a professor. I cast my eyes over the students, all 45 of them, feeling more than a trifle nervous at the prospect of speaking to such a large congregation. I greeted the class, introduced myself and wrote my name on the blackboard. This performance produced only blank stares ― and the occasional giggle. I moved on to checking the attendance.
Glancing at the class roster, I noticed that about 10 of the students appeared to be called “Kim.” Another seven or so were “Park” and five more were “Lee.” Then, after realizing that the students found my ungainly pronunciation of their names utterly hilarious, I decided that adopting the nickname thing might be the way to go after all. Retrieving the sheet my more experienced colleagues had given me, I asked the students to fill it in and pass it around. “Choose a nickname,” I told them. “An English name.”
I wrote a few examples, such as “Peter” “Paul” and “Mary,” on the board.
After about 20 minutes the sheet came back. Pleased, I began to read the names out. It quickly struck me that the women seemed to prefer rather childish names, such as “Pink” “Heart” and “Flower.” Not exactly what I had had in mind, but at least they were memorable. The men were another matter. As I called out their chosen monikers I started to think that teaching university students in Korea might not turn out as I had expected.
“Who is ‘Sexy Lion?’” I found myself asking. Cackling sarcastically, some young men at the back of the room pointed out their handsome feline colleague, who was grinning broadly with what appeared to be pride rather than embarrassment.
“Do we have ‘Dumb?’” I continued. “And ‘Dumber?’” The class erupted with laughter that seemed to be more at my expense than that of the two who had selected those names.
I paused to reflect on the last name on the list. Was it a declaration of sexual preference, or merely a spelling error? Somehow, noting the lolling, sneering attitudes of the male students, I began to suspect the latter.
“And who,” I concluded reluctantly, “has elected to be called ‘Tough Gay?’”
by Jeremy Garlick
The author lectures at a university in Seoul.
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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