Sometimes I forget that I stick out here. Usually it is the little kids who remind me, like last week in first grade.
I was crouched down, pointing at a picture of an octopus and encouraging a 7-year-old girl to tell me what it was. When she didn’t answer right away, I figured she was either shy or confused. After all, ‘octopus’ is a pretty long word.
She raised a trembling finger and pointed it right at me.
“Eyes,” she said. “Eyes.” Her voice was full of fear.
“Wha- Oh, right, my eyes,” I said. “They’re kind of yellow.”
“Yellow!” she shouted, pulling a yellow crayon from her box.
She turned to the girl to her right, tugging insistently on her sleeve.
“Yellow,” she said solemnly, pointing first at the crayon and then at me. “Eyes. Yellow.”
Both little girls gasped and squealed. In unison, they rose and ran over to their teacher.
“Sunsangnim, sunsangnim,” they called. “Eyes! Eyes!”
The teacher came over, unalarmed. “Yes,” she said. “Lauren has different eyes than you do.”
The excitement fizzled out from there, once the girls saw that their teacher was not concerned by my alien orbs.
“So,” I said, pointing again at the octopus. “What’s that? It’s an octopus! Can you say ‘octopus?’
The little girl looked at me scornfully. “Octopus,” she said, in perfect English. Then she picked up her yellow crayon and turned her attention back to her coloring.
* * * * *
The next day, I was again attempting to eke an English word (“pumpkin”) out of a little girl when she looked at me with unconcealed wonder.
She jabbed her index finger in the air in front of my face. Then she touched her face on various spots around her cheek, her nose, her forehead. Her brow furrowed.
I remembered again that I am sort of like a mutant to these kids. “Oh,” I said, pointing at my own face. “Freckles.”
“Freck – ?”
“Freckles,” I repeated.
“Freckles,” she said. “Hm.”
She resumed coloring the pumpkin. I decided not to ask her what it was. She’d learned enough for one day.
* * * * *
My co-teacher has started telling the 6th graders that they are lucky to have me for an English teacher, because my accent is a unique mix of American and English. I only know when she is doing this because I hear the words “Lauren,” “Megook” (American) and “Yongo” (English). Also, the kids all fall silent and stare at me. It is disconcerting.
She didn’t explain what she said to them until after class.
“I told them you have a special accent,” she said. “They should listen carefully.”
“Oh,” I said, nodding.
“But they don’t care,” she said, shrugging her shoulders in a what-can-you-do? kind of way.
Now I feel pressure to keep up this accent charade, the one I wasn’t aware I was doing. I’m like Madonna during that faux-English accent phase. I notice myself saying “dahnce” instead of “dance,” and over-enunciating my words.
Not that it matters. As she said, the kids don’t really care what I sound like. They only want to know why I have such weird eyes and what the deal is with all of those brown spots all over my skin. Either way, they’re learning. Goal accomplished.
* * * * *