To a Korean friend,
It was just supposed to be a job, a way to earn some extra cash. Because my university had a good English program for foreigners, many college students from your country spent the summer break here to try to learn the language, and most hired tutors to supplement the classes. One of my friends thought we should do it, and I went along with the plan. Three to four hours a week helping a couple of Korean guys learn English wasn’t too big of a deal, I thought. Little did I know it would be a lot more memorable than just a part-time job.
It wasn’t easy at first, because of the cultural and language barriers. (I remember the time you texted, “I want you,” which my dorm mates, laughing at the nonplussed look on my face, assured me probably only meant “I like you.”) But you won me over soon enough. Maybe it was the way I knew how hard you were trying. I could still see that endearing furrow of concentration on your forehead as you focused on what I was teaching, or the way you would draw pictures to help me understand your question better. After our tutorial session, you’d even stay behind to study some more while your friends were only too eager to party on the town. Or maybe it was that smile that just lit you up whenever I laughed at something you said or complimented you on your work. Or how you were a perfect gentleman, with those sweet little gestures that most men no longer bother with. I don’t know what it was, exactly. I only know that something about you just about charmed the socks off me.
The last night before you left, you asked me out for dinner. Do you know how nervous I was about that? We had only gone out with your friends and their tutors before; it was never just the two of us. What if we ran out of things to talk about? Or worse, what if we couldn’t understand each other? It could get really awkward.
But you surprised me. It was so easy, so comfortable between us. We talked about your home, and what awaited you there. We talked about our English lessons, and I told you how proud I was of how far you’ve come. That night, though, we weren’t tutor and student, just a girl and a guy who have managed to become friends despite the cultural divide. Wistfully, you told me how you loved the Philippines, and how much you wish you could come back one day. I knew better than to make you promise, though. I didn’t want any illusions to spoil this goodbye.
At the end of the night, you walked me home, and hugged me outside the gate. I waved as you walked away, knowing it was probably the last time I would ever see you again. So far, I was right.
I still have those earrings that you gave me as a parting gift, and I will treasure them always. And I haven’t deleted any of the emails you sent, even when our communication gradually became more sporadic through both our faults. It’s okay, though. These things happen. I guess this letter is just a way of saying I hope you’re well. Wherever you are, haeng un eul bil eo yo. May all your dreams come true. I still — and always will — believe in you.