I have this student who always wears a track suit. He has several, all in different colors. He’s a big guy who has a buzz cut and walks like a wrestler, even though he doesn’t wrestle. He often comes in late, clutching his stomach and looking pained, but he’s there every day. His English level is probably the lowest in his class, but he is super confident — never afraid to speak, never afraid to make mistakes, and always wanting to participate. I love him for it. He’ll often start speaking rapid Korean in the middle of telling me something, when his sentence or idea is too complicated to explain in English; I’ll listen patiently, answer or respond in English (if we’re in the classroom; if I see him in the hallway, we speak in Korean), and keep the conversation going.
A couple of weeks ago, he missed his Thursday class; the following Tuesday, when I was walking around listening to my students answering conversation questions, he called me over.
“Oh — teacher!” “Hey!” I said. “Where were you last week? Are you okay?” “Oh no, teacher,” he answered. “Hospital.” “Uh?” I asked (kind of the Korean equivalent of “huh?” or “what?”), thinking he probably went because he either had a cold or was hungover. In Korea, people don’t go to a clinic or stay home when they’re sick; they go to the hospital. (I’d like to mention here that a majority of the hospitals in Korea are private, and they’re closed on weekends; only a few hospitals here have emergency rooms open on weekends! Basically, if you get sick on a Sunday, you’re screwed.)
Anyway, he then proceeded to explain to me in a wild rambling of mixed Korean and English (I would love to reproduce it here, but I wouldn’t do it justice) that the reason he’d gone to the hospital was because he was so sick from drinking that he had to get his stomach pumped; the doctor told him he has severe liver damage from (and here I quote) “middle school high school drink all time.” Fuck. I guess now I know why he always looks like he’s in pain — he probably always is. And he probably keeps on drinking, joking about it, and thinking he’s invincible, as we all do in our early twenties.
Update: Today my students gave presentations; this student was missing. His best friend came up to me and said, “S could not come to school today. Police.” “What?!” I asked. “He’s at the police station?!” “Yes,” he said, calmly. “What happened? Is he okay?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he said, and walked away, unphased, like this shit happens all the time.
Further Update: S comes to class this week and tells me he was at the police station. I know, I tell him. I ask if he’s alright and to tell me what happened. Apparently, his friend called him to help him in a fistfight. S went, and the police came. He then told me that the police have an arrest warrant (!) out for him, but that it’s okay because he’s “buying a lawyer.” He makes me promise not to tell the other teachers. I pinky swear I won’t, and he stands in front of class to give his presentation.