I'm at the school gym after dinner to fit in a workout before the first night-time self-study period begins. When I arrive, it looks like a handful of third-year students also have the same idea. Well, they're in the gym and sitting on the weight equipment, but as it turns out, they're not exercising. Instead, they're using the gym's sound system as a jukebox and singing along to their favorite K-pop ballads.
"Hi, TK! Hi, HS," I say. "What are you singing?" HS names a song I've never heard of by a singer I don't recognize.
"Oh, that's cool. Hey, have you seen these songs in English?" I ask. Every few months for the past two years, I've burned a CD of random American or British pop music and left it in the gym in hopes that a student will be interested enough to listen to it. I'm up to five CDs now, and I indicate one of them. "Want to sing one?"
"Uh... I don't know any American songs," says HS hesitantly. TK butts in: "Teacher! He doesn't like English!"
HS looks slightly mortified. "No, I like English!" he protests.
"It's okay, HS," I reply. "You know what? It's okay if you don't like English. Really, I don't care."
His face slackens, and then a soft grin appears. "Oh, then, I hate English."
"But even if you don't like English," I continue, "you have to try hard in my class."
"Yes, teacher," says HS.
TK laughs. "Teacher, I also hate English."
"Oh, yeah?" I say. "Well, TK, like it or not, you still have a test tomorrow in my class, and I expect you to do well."
"Oh, yeah," says TK. Then he groans exaggeratedly and buries his head in his hands. He probably hasn't studied at all!
After this lighthearted exchange, I lift weights for a few minutes until I hear the next ballad they have chosen to sing: Beyonce's "Listen" from the Dreamgirls movie. Grinning widely, I go over and join them for the rest of the song.
Listen, I am alone at a crossroads
I'm not at home in my own home
And I've tried and tried to say what's on my mind
You should have known
Oh, now I'm done believing you
You don't know what I'm feeling
I'm more than what you made of me
I followed the voice you gave to me
But now I gotta find my own.