The day began like any other: Taehyung dragging himself out of the unacquainted bed in the unfamiliar home. It had been three months, yet he couldn’t bring himself to adjust to these customs. From the way they greeted to the way they referred to each other as ‘dude’ and ‘bro’, or sometimes not at all. He couldn’t fathom the kind of reaction his friends would have if he did that, especially since he was the ‘baby’ of the group. In Seoul he always referred to his older friends as hyung or noona for his older female friends. The language had especially been a challenge for him. Just with the alphabet alone he wanted to strangle whoever gave him the idea of an exchange program.
Sitting at a table of blank faces made him uneasy. These people who are his “family” for the time being had barely made an effort to speak in his language, even though the first words they said to him were in Korean. After the bland breakfast they served, he was out of the door and piled onto a school bus. It was much too hot for him, small droplets racing down his pale skin. In South Korea he would’ve been wearing a thin layer of makeup over his sharp features, as all the teen boys who wanted to become K-Pop idols would. His hair would be a ridiculous color rather than its normal caramel. And in Seoul, who didn’t want to be in a K-Pop group? In this heat, though, he would rather sit around in his boxers.
His first class was Algebra 2, the only class he understood. It was mostly numbers, not words.
“Hey Tea,” Two girls from the cheerleading squad said as they walked up to him. He vaguely remembered the one who was talking to him, her name being something along the lines of Vicki. God, how he hated people shortening his name (unless they were his friends). Especially the way she pronounced it. Why must she draw out the e? My name is not Tea, its Tae. He thought bitterly.
“We were wondering if you wanted to join us for lunch today. I’m Victoria by the way,” The other girl said while smiling warmly. She seemed to be a carbon copy of the first one even with her name being Victoria. Do they multiply every few minutes? Despite his thoughts, he smiled and nodded anyways.
During lunch, all they asked him to do was say things in Korean. “Can you say my name in Korean?” “Can you write my name in Korean?” “Can you do this?” “Can you do that?” He spent 45 minutes saying names with an accent, but it satisfied the hungry crowds. His last two classes blurred together into four hours of gibberish. Only twenty minutes left until he was free from this place. Now I know why Ameircans find this absolutely boring and why Yoongi was so against me coming. He remembers the way his older brother threw a fit when his mother brought up the topic one night. How she wanted him to improve on his English, expand his horizons. That, and this was one of the conditions before his parents would allow him to even think about becoming an idol. Sometimes he thinks that maybe this was a way his mother was trying to change his mind about the career path he wanted. He remembers the way Yoongi yelled about how he would hate it, how they would treat him like a circus monkey, begging him to dance until he was worn out and pleading for release. Now he understood.
“Alright class, for this next project I’m going to assign you partners, as it is for a novel rather than short fiction. The idea is to analyze and summarize the book. Emma and Jody, Brandon and Kayla, Taehyung and Amy,” the teacher announced. Mrs. Samsa was a middle aged woman who taught with a little too much enthusiasm. He groaned internally. Never had he spoken to Amy, he only knew she was top in the class and he was at the bottom in severe need of help. The class was English and the one he despised the most, of course.
“What novel do you want to do?” Amy asked him, breaking him from his cage of thoughts. He just stared blankly at her. She was short; he could tell that he would probably tower over her. Her soft feature reminded him of his older brother’s. Her warm brown eyes were inviting and kind. The smile that gently tugged on her lips, never left as she sat down. She’s just way to happy, she’s almost as happy as Hoseok-hyung. He thought of his best friend, the one who would never shut up and was always smiling. A wave of homesickness set in like a pit deep in his stomach.
“Is there any Korean ones you want to do?” She asked. He shook his head no. Is she trying to be nice, or she just like Vicki and her clones? “So you do understand me.” He nodded then made a hand movement to show that he somewhat understood what she was saying, even though he understood almost all of what she had said. She ripped a paper form her notebook, sketching a small Frankenstein. But it ended up looking like a small child’s doodle. Seeing a character that is portrayed as a terrifying monster, in such a silly form made him laugh out loud. Amy’s smile grew at the reaction.
“Well, I was thinking we could do the Great Gatsby,” She suggested, pulling out a worn out paper back copy from her bag. He smiled when he saw the cover, instantly nodding. Just one problem Ms. Smiley, I’ve only read that in Korean. But of course, he couldn’t form the words to say that out loud.
“You’ve read it?” She asked.
“Yes, in Korean,” He answered, “I like it very much. Sorry for my English, bad.”
“You. English is fine. Better than most people who actually live here,” She laughed, making him laugh. Maybe she’s not that bad. “But if you rather not talk, that’s fine too. Where do we meet up to work on this?” Tae looked around the room before grabbing an expo marker and drawing on his desk.
Slowly he drew a cup with a swirl on top as Amy watched intently.
“Ice cream?” She asked carefully inspecting his drawing. He shook his head, drawing a character on the desk next to it. Quickly realizing his mistake, he erased the Korean he had written and replaced them with a drawing of an animal, then a small carton next to it.
“Cow? Milk? Oh! Milkshakes?” She asked, being met with a rapid nod. “You like milkshakes? Of course you do, if not you wouldn’t be asking to go there. I know the perfect place. We can go right after school, if that’s fine for you of course.”
“I have to talk to my uh noona,” He said shyly.
“That’s totally okay,” Amy said.
When the bell rang Tae hurried down the halls to find Arden, the daughter of the family he was currently living with. She was only a grade above them, but being that her being a senior made her impossible to be find. When he did, he touched her arm gently.
“You okay, Tae?” she asked.
“I’m going to study with a classmate for a project. I’ll be home late tonight,” he said in Korean.
“I’ll tell mom and dad don’t worry. Good luck,” She laughed as he turned to see Amy standing just a few feet away.
“That was Korean, right?” she asked.
“Yes,” he nodded, awaiting for her request on what he was to translate. He was waiting for her “true colors” to show, which is what had happened with Vicki and Victoria.
“It was so pretty. Anyways, let’s go before the bus leaves,” she suggested. That caught him off guard, and made him smile. He finally accepted that she wasn’t like the rest, that maybe she really wouldn’t be that bad.
Once they were sitting in the awfully bright pink-colored booth, they sipped on their respective milkshakes. The entire bus ride there was made up of sketching silly pictures on notebook papers. They received the strangest stares when they tried to correct the other on what they were trying to say. For the first time since Tae arrived to the city, he was able to talk to someone other than the family he was staying with.
“Okay, since you have read Great Gatsby before. What did you think?” she asked him.
“Very good, I um I-I liked,” He said while noding.
“You know, I was thinking about this on the bus, if you want I’ll tutor you on your English. Only if you’re up for it though!” She said.
“Really?” He asked.
“Yeah,” She said while nodding happily. He reached over the table and hugged her tightly. She smiled softly, squeezing back gently before he let go to sit back down.
“So first things first, how much English do you actually know?” she asked.
“Little bit,” he said.
“Why don’t go somewhere more private for that?” she suggested, “If you’re not comfortable with your English.”
“Okay,” he agreed.
They silently sipped on the milkshakes as they waited for their waitress to come back. Once they fought over who would pay, with Tae winning in the end, they walked out of the small diner and down the quiet road.
“We can go to the library and find an emptier spot?” she asked him. He nodded, eager to learn more English.
“Maybe in return you can teach me some Korean.” She said.
“Yes.” He said happily.
“Let’s start with the basics, yeah?” she said.
“Okay, hello?” he asked and she nodded. “Hello is annyseonghaseyo.”
“That’s a mouthful,” she said while laughing. After her first attempt of pronunciation of the long words as Tae held back laughter, he helped her get a somewhat correct way of saying it.
“Okay, what about goodbye?” she asked him.
“Goodbye is annyeonghi gaseyo,” he said.
“Isn’t there an easier way of saying it? For beginners such as myself,” she said with a small giggle.
“Annyeong,” he said. “I like annyeong.”
“Me too,” she said.
For the next week they exchanged as much as they could manage. Drawing became their middle ground. Both quickly found out that neither one of them could draw very well, but it served as a motivation to be learn the other’s mother tongue and be able to communicate. Tae was able to pick up rather quickly with the help of Amy, although he wish he could say the same thing for her learning Korean.
Come the following Monday, their teacher avoided calling on them to present their book to the class. She’s probably stalling so we go next class, Tae thought bitterly, or not at all.
“Looks like we have enough time for Amy and Taehyung,” She offered them a fake smile. Amy gave her brightest grin while Tae rolled his eyes in annoyance. Do they think I let her do all the work? He watched as Amy rambled about the first half of the book, something he noticed she did when she was nervous.
“Do you have anything to say about the book, Tae?” Amy asked sweetly. Of course she knew what he was planning.
“The ending was very surprising.” He said. Amy smiled proudly next to him. The class looked on, shocked. He began to explain the last half of the book, the few mispronunciations he made were fixed by Amy quietly whispering the right way in his ear for him to repeat. The cheerleaders had scowls on their faces rather than the obnoxious smiles that usually stretched their lips to their ears.
“Very good, both of you,” Mrs. Samsa said with a nod.
“You can speak in English?” Vicki said, malice lacing around each word.
“Yes, Amy helped me get good,” He said confidently.
“It’s better, first of all,” she snapped. “So why didn’t you talk when we worked together?”
“You weren’t nice,” He said and shrugged simply. God, do these girls ever shut up? He looked up to see the other
“Or what about the time we were paired together?” Victoria snapped. Apparently not.
“You weren’t nice either, Vicki,” He smirked, knowing the name confusion would irk them to no end.
“My name isn’t Vicki, she’s Vicki. I’m Victoria,” She said through clenched teeth.
“Well Vicki- I mean Victoria, my name isn’t Tea, its Tae,” He smiled kindly before getting up when he heard the bell ring.
“Goodbye.” He smiled before catching up to Amy in the hallway.
“Same time today?” She asked him, referring to their English and Korean lessons.
“Yes,” he smiled happily before walking into the library to continue their language exchange. This might not be as bad as Yoongi-hyung said. Maybe I’ll come back, he thought to himself, as Amy began to ask different questions about Korean language.
“How do you say this in Korean?” She asked and pointed at a horrible sketch. He smiled brightly, snapping out of his thoughts and teaching her how to say the word.
“Have you settled in yet?” Amy asked. “Do you like it here yet?”
“I have. I think I’m beginning to like here,” he said with a bright smiled.