Friday, December 20, 2013


On my way to the gym, I spot SM sitting alone at the computer bank. Slacking as usual, I think. All the other students are in study hall, but SM doesn't really have to cram for finals, since he's already been accepted to university early. I remember catching him on these very computers playing League of Legends a few weeks earlier. Video games on the school computers is expressly forbidden, but for teenagers, where there's a will, there's a way.

I catch his eye and walk toward him. He's not playing LoL; in fact, there's nothing showing but the desktop. He's not working, just starting blankly at a blank screen. Come to think of it, SM still hasn't turned in the final draft of his speech test. It's at least two weeks late by now. I'd give him a zero now if I could. I open my mouth to speak...

"Whats up, SM?"
"Hi, Teacher. Um... not so good."
"Oh, why? What's wrong?"
"I have a lot of... thinking."
"About what?"

Reprimands of SM's late work fly out of my mind. He explains to me in his most earnest faltering English that he isn't sure if he's made the right decision in registering for University A. Having been accepted to University A, as well as generally more prestigious Universities B and C, he's chosen A because it is closely aligned with Samsung, Korea's economic powerhouse conglomerate and the surefire means to a successful career for anyone in this country. Going to University A would mean greater job security, money to buy a house, and a more comfortable future.

"But... I don't know if I want to go."

I'm surprised at how much SM opened up to me, just because I happened to pass him in the hallway.* Suddenly, I see myself six years ago, weighing admissions letters from Swarthmore and a handful of UCs, wondering how momentously my life would be altered by choosing one over the others. For a moment, I frame that scene in the humble perspective six years, four countries, and one life-changing job can give.

"Well, my advice is -- wait, SM, would you like some advice?"
"Okay, my advice is this: Do not do anything that you do not really want to do. Do you understand?"
"I think so."
"I mean, if you work for Samsung, that's great! You can make lots of money, buy a house, and become famous, but if you do not enjoy the work that you do... then what's the reason? You will wake up one day when you are forty years old and think, "Wow, I'm forty. What did I do in my life?"

Make a lot of money?

"Also... remember this: you are still young. You have lots of time. If you do not know what you want to do in the future, that's okay! You don't have to know now."
"Yeah... Oh, but it's so difficult!"
"You can do it."
"Thank you, Teacher."
"You're welcome. And one more thing: you still have not given me your final draft."

- - -

*Okay, I shouldn't be surprised anymore, my students have rarely proved to be anything other than friendly, open-minded, and genuine.