*Originally published on Culture Counter, which is now shut down*
My students in Asia are all special, unique snowflakes, but since I first started teaching the sweet, little, uniformed troublemakers, I’ve been asked the same questions and heard the same comments over and over. Unlike my students in America, my Asian students aren’t afraid to cross the line or invade my personal boundaries. Sometimes, this is great, when they tell me I’m a beautiful fashionista or that I look like Taylor Swift, and it’s an absolute horror when they say things like “Teacher, you do not look good today” or “your hair was better before.”
Teaching in Asia is a bit like hanging out with your aunts and uncles on the holidays. You will be judged and made to feel as though you don’t have your life together. You’ll feel like you really need a glass of wine as soon as you get away from them. But, begrudgingly you have to admit: you love them.
So, stock your Asian apartment with bottles of wine and get ready for questions like this.
If you are a Western female, you must prepare yourself for this. Asian students are not used to grown women having any flesh on their bellies, unless they are about to give birth or are a grandma.
The first time I was asked this, I was teaching at an all-girls school in South Korea. The student was a cheeky 7th grader and I immediately felt like I was back in middle school. I stared at her in shock and anger.
“Whaaa…no. NO! I am not. Why would you think that?!”
And then, I went on a crash diet for a week because I was convinced all my students thought I was obese.
The male teacher version of this is a straight-to-the-point, “Teacher, you are fat.”
Very rarely, it pays to be a woman.
Teacher, boyfriend?/Teacher, girlfriend?
When I was in school, the thought of my teachers dating or being married seemed illogical. They obviously lived at the school and had no other life. If they did, I didn’t want to know about it.
Asian students think their foreign teachers and their social lives are as exciting as an daytime drama. The first question you’re asked at a new school is if you’re single or not. If I were seen with a male friend around town in Taiwan, my students would tell me they saw me with my “boyfriend”.
When I told my students in South Korea, I had no boyfriend, I was asked, “why not?” and given sad looks. Soon enough, I would be offered dates with their brothers, which was a kind and yet, disturbing offer, as most of these brothers were in high school.
Teacher, your hair. Why?
My thin, blonde hair does not make sense to my students. They touch it when I’m helping them with work or hold it up against their own shining, thick, black manes and wonder at the stark comparison.
My guy friends with hairy arms or chests are constantly stroked by their students (in an appropriate way, I promise!) who think they are like dogs or some kind of wolf.
“Teacher, why?” they ask, as if we have an answer.
Teacher, I love you!
Yes, my students make me question my physical appearance, love life, and general genetics on a daily basis, but they do it out of love. The weekly notes and drawings I get with “Teacher Hannah, I love you” scribbled across it make it all worthwhile.
Except for the drawing from my 2nd grader in Taiwan that depicted us eating a bunch of donuts together and saying “I’m so fat.”
That one wasn’t cool.
Teacher, you are so beautiful/handsome!
The adoration of children shouldn’t usually be believed, as they might call me beautiful and then in the next breath, call a smashed bug on the ground beautiful, but, I’ll take it all the same.
Whenever I had my 2nd graders in Taiwan write stories, they included a princess character, known for her great beauty, named Teacher Hannah. I did not pay them to do this.
A conversation with my kindergarten students in Thailand goes like this.
Me: “What book are you reading?”
Student: “Teacher, you are the most beautiful!”
Well, shucks. Way to make me forget that you aren’t doing your homework. Flattery will get you everywhere.
A former student in Taiwan told a friend of mine that she remembered me as “very beautiful.” The lesson plans I slaved over? Nah. Beauty is definitely in the eye of the young and easily impressed beholder.
Special Mention: Teacher, your head is so small.
This is unique to South Korea, but it’s such a great one. Koreans love to admire or judge head shapes and a small head (more accurately, face) is thought to show beauty. If you get this one, take it as a compliment.
When I first heard it, I was on my laptop and felt the presence of three students behind me. They started touching my skull, announced, “Teacher, your head is so small” and then walked away.
I was almost certain they were planning to murder me.
So, thank you students, for the murder scares, weeks of eating only bell peppers, and the grand delusions of being on the same level as Taylor Swift.
As I always tell you……..“get away from me!”
….I mean, “I love you. Now, do your work.”