By Kathryn Mattingly
Doing the best we can with our immediate circumstances is a little like shooting
arrows in the dark sometimes. You have no idea where the arrows will land, but
you hope occasionally one will hit dead center in the core of what you need most.
Sometimes an arrow hits its mark just when you least expect it,
when you are no longer listening for it to connect with anything.
Where It All Began
When the private college where I taught closed, I decided to become a private tutor in order to rise from the rubble of having lost my job. One of my first students was a young girl from South Korea who was visiting her grandparents for the summer. She attended International school in South Korea, where speaking English is required. What better way to maintain a language over the summer than with creative writing? I threw in some grammar, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. But mainly we wrote stories.
Signed up for a different summer camp each week, our little Korean created batches of brain goo and sculpted owls from clay. Not surprisingly, amidst the hands-on fun, she found an English tutor tedious. The first week she asked me every ten minutes if I was leaving yet. Sometime during the second week she stopped watching the clock. Now she was fully engaged in story writing and I wondered about the change. I asked her, “Why? ” With a big smile and twinkling eyes she quipped, “This doesn’t seem much like work. It’s fun.”
By the end of the third week my little Korean pupil was greeting me at the door instead of grandmother having to fetch her from dark recesses of the house. The fourth week the dark-haired foreigner was meeting me at the end of the sidewalk when I pulled up. The fifth week she walked me out to my car and waved shamelessly as I drove away.
This became our ritual.
I came to know her as incredibly bright and diversely gifted. During the course of our eight weeks together she managed to capture a solo part in her theater workshop and performed for a local radio show. ‘Were you nervous?” I asked. “Oh, no,” she shrugged, “I’m used to piano solos.”
A Cross-Cultural Connection
I learned a lot about South Korea through her creative writing. She learned how much she loved to tell stories about her homeland. At some point I realized that tutoring giggling little girls is just as rewarding and inspiring as lecturing a classroom of cocky college kids.
I will never forget how her grandmother bowed to me at the door each session while I deposited my shoes on the porch. Or the Asian tray of dark ornate mahogany she used to serve drinks at each visit, despite my protests. My star pupil would look at me with those bright eyes and say, “It’s tradition in Korea to honor your guests with a beverage. Grandmother is stubborn about tradition. Just drink it!” Then she would shoot me that bewitching smile.
Her mother flew in from South Korea the day of our final session. Mother and daughter planned to visit New York for a cultural experience before returning to their homeland. My little Korean friend gave me gifts brought from Korea on that final visit, and I gave her a personal journal so she could write about New York.
It caught us both by surprise when emotions overcame our gift exchange. I could barely see through my tears as I drove away. Despite the distance between our homelands and cultures, an arrow shot in the dark had made its mark.