by Kou Matsuoka
14-year-old Chrysanthos Morozov reminisces on the boy who has helped motivate him.
|It’s 8:38 am in Seoul, South Korea and 3:38 pm in California right now. Good luck treats and meals were given by my host family from the previous night still fills my stomach. I haven’t eaten all of the treats they offered me, it would ruin my psyche during the College Scholastic Ability Test that only occurs once a year. I’ve been studying for this test ever since I arrived in South Korea; for whatever reason, it’s “the chance to make or break one's future” in regards to going to one of those prestigious colleges or any at all. It’s so highly regarded that my host family and several other families are going to temples to pray for our success.
As soon as the clock struck at 8:40 am, the teacher passed the booklets and scantrons to every student and wished us good luck. Honestly, all of us need that right now. I only had two hours of sleep last night and I’m so tired. I should’ve drunk the coffee my host mother told me to drink, but coffee makes me more anxious. I feel my body both mentally and physically blanking out, but I have to resist. I don’t want to be the twenty percent that retakes this damn test. I worked way too hard to have to retake it.
I’m a child prodigy according to my teachers, parents, classmates, and anyone who knows who associates themselves with me. People are shocked to discover that I’m only fourteen years old and the third year in a Korean High School. Though, I don’t consider myself a prodigy at all especially if you take a look at my records before I arrived here.
When I still lived in San Francisco, I was barely able to spell my name in the first grade. I loathed my parents for giving me the complicated, “Chrysanthos” as my name. I get that they were awfully into Greek Mythology and that they got married because of that, but if their daughter was named Penelope they shouldn’t have tortured their eldest son with this wretched name. Besides that, I didn’t have the motivation to learn. What’s the purpose of sitting in a classroom filled with twenty or thirty students hearing some old person read out something from a textbook for hours? It’s so boring, I rather watch paint dry. The teacher noticed my lack of participation and made me join a mentorship program that paired younger students with older students. That’s when I met Eun Choi. Eun was a transfer student from Seoul and was two years older than me. His clear knowledge of everything I was horrible at intrigued me and irritated me. Everyone I knew talked about him. Every day it was always, “Eun’s good at this!” or “Eun is so cool!”. Not to mention he was so oddly polite and nice to everyone. It would drive me absolutely insane; he was everything that I was not. I hated him from the start of the program.
However, because of that, I was more attentive in school, raising my hand more often and studying rigorously than any student would just to prove to him that I wasn’t some dumb elementary school student. Around the 4th grade, I was accepted into the advanced classes. It was then when I started hearing my name spread around like wildfire to the other students.
“Wow, Chrys got accepted to the Advanced Placement program?”
“I know right? I heard Chrys worked super hard to get into it.”
“I remember he used to get horrible grades in first grade but got smarter over time in that mentorship program.”
Occasionally I hear the “Nerd” comment but it stopped bothering me after the first few times. While the approval of my peers was important to me in a way, my biggest concern was from Eun himself; the boy who surpassed me in everything I was unable to do.
“You’re getting really good at this,” Eun said and messed with my short, blonde hair, “That’s better than what I can do at your age. Your improvement from when we first started has definitely increased.”
I smiled probably for the first time in my fourth grade life.
“You’re smiling, that’s adorable,” Eun said, I remember him grabbing onto my cheek as if I were a child, “Did you want to hear that from me?”
“No, why would I?” I pushed his hand away from my cheek, I hated when people treated me like a kid.
“Hey Chrys, there’s something I need to tell you.”
My heart froze at that moment, my emotions adjusted themselves correctly to match the situation. I anxiously wanted to know what he was going to say to me.
“I’m moving back to Seoul. My dad’s really sick and I need to take care of him while my mom’s away at work,” he said, “It was really nice to meet you Chrysanthos. I hope we see each other again someday.”
I never saw Eun again after that day. Ever since he left back to Korea, I felt this emptiness in my life. Sure, I was happy to be considered his rank, but my motivation was gone. I dreaded the advanced placement classes since his departure; I didn’t want to study or learn anymore without someone better to defeat. I earned the “child prodigy” title of the school and had gotten awards for earning the highest grades, test scores, and anything academic and pointless. By the end of 5th grade, I despised my apathetic and effortless life.
My mom was worried for my mental health and decided to ship me off to some therapist who was extremely convinced that my feelings for Eun were called, “Love”. Was it love? I couldn’t tell at the time. These strange emotions were too weird for me to deal with. It’s not something that could easily be solved with an equation or by reading the passage placed above. I had to figure this out some way or another, even if it means selling my soul.
“Mom, Dad, I’m going to study in Korea,” I announced to my parents on that day, “I’m going to spend my 6th-grade year taking online classes so I can be a first year by the start of next year. I’m bored of my life, there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”
“A first year? How does that work?” I recall my mother asking, “Why so sudden?”
“In South Korea, there are only three years for high school. A first year, second year, and a third year. The start of high school there is essentially a sophomore in an American High School,” I responded, “I want something more demanding. Skipping grades here would be too easy. I don’t want an easy life.”
“Are you sure about this?” my father scratched the back of his head, “Korea is far from home, it’d be hard to contact us if you ever need help.”
“Yes, I’m sure. I’ll make sure to call you guys whenever I have free time.”
Although my parents were bewildered by my adult decision, they learned to accept it eventually. After all, with my grades and everything I was expected to attempt a more difficult challenge.
The online classes I took were absolute hell from what I recall from the lack of sleep and free time. In order to skip three grades, I took three courses at the same time; one for seventh, one for eighth, and one for ninth. I was wary not to take too many breaks and focused one hundred percent on the day-to-day lesson I received as well as the lessons I learned at school. However, I was required to take on as much as four lessons from each course daily in order to reach my goal. I also needed to learn basic Korean as well if I wanted to study abroad there.
That was also the year I lost all of my friends.
“Hey Chrys, why aren’t you hanging out with us anymore?”
“I told you already, I’m busy with online school.”
“Why do you even take online school ya nerd? We get that you want to go to Korea or whatever, but why? Just relax and take it easy. Spend time with us before you go off on your trip.”
“I have some free time to spare tomorrow, do you want to hang out then?”
“Sure, hit me up anytime.”
It was always awkward talking to them. I didn’t have much to talk about besides lessons I took. While they were willing to put up with me for the time being, I knew this wasn’t going to work and ended my friendship with them. I got out of school within a few months because it interfered too much with my online lessons. Besides, I would finish sixth grade faster if I took the class online. From then on, the only real human interaction I had was from my parents or my younger sister, but even then that was minuscule. I didn’t feel too bad about it though; seeing Eun again was my motivation. Without him, I wouldn’t have been here. I owe him everything.
“Chrys, I found a Student Exchange Program in Korea that you might be interested in,” my mom came into my room and showed me a website on her laptop. It was brightly colored and broadcasted pictures of the city scenery, the Jogyesa Temple, and students smiling next to their host family, “Your father and I did some research, read reviews of this program, made sure that it was safe for you, and—”
“I’ll be fine,” I looked at her with reassurance, “Don’t worry about me so much.”
“We just want to make sure that your trip goes well,” she replied, “It’s hard to see our son travel halfway across the world away from our reach. You’re only twelve years old and yet you’re leaving us so soon.”
“I’ll be sure to visit whenever I can.”
I didn’t like how overprotective my parents were; I understand the reasoning behind it but I wished they wouldn’t mention all of the time about how much they would miss me. I wanted this trip to be easier without the emotional baggage of my parents. I considered myself my own person, an adult even. I’m no longer their “little boy”. I’m Chrysanthos Morozov, twelve years old and a future first year in South Korea.
Before I knew it, I was already at the station waiting for my plane to arrive.
“Chrys, be sure to tell us when you arrive in Korea,” my mother said before she pulled me into a hug at the airport station, “Send us postcards as well and skype whenever you can!”
“всего доброго!” my father says in Russian which translates to “wish you luck” and proceeds to hug me.
Penelope joined in the hug, “Send me an autograph of Kai from my favorite K-Pop band would you?”
That long, everlasting embrace at the airport was the most embarrassing moment in my life. Thankfully, that moment ended quickly and I was able to hop on the plane. I sat in my seat and stared into the window, watching as the plane took flight. I felt thankful enough to get accepted into the competitive student exchange program. Though, with my up to par grades and well-written application, it wasn’t a challenge.
I conducted research on my host family after I was established into the program. According to the program provider, they called themselves the Ryu family. It was a family of five: a husband, wife, two middle school aged sons, and an elementary school aged daughter. I didn’t bother to continue my research because I didn’t want to feel any sort of attachment towards them. My only goal for this trip was to find Eun and reclaim my motivation.
I expected the host family to understand English to make up for my lack of knowledge in the Korean language, but that wasn’t the case when the Program Provider introduced me to them. Since then, I stayed relatively silent, only responding to yes or no questions or using polite terms whenever they did nice things for me. I was fortunate that they were hosting several other students too so that they fixated their attention more towards them instead of me all of the time. I didn’t bother to talk to the other students, nor did I want to participate in any of the events the program provided. I’m surprised the family hasn’t complained and agreed to have me live in their home for three years.
Those first two years of high school was a pain in the groin. While some teachers did speak English, a majority had expected the students to grasp the knowledge of the native language already. If it wasn’t for my determination and death-straining, late night studying, I would’ve flunked and get sent back home. Often, I found myself gazing off into the other classroom where Eun was in. Despite us being in the same grade, we never got to be in the same class. Here in South Korea, the teachers switch classrooms rather than the students; it would’ve been easier in America to be together. I watched him from afar at the end of class when everyone moved to the library to do some self-studying. I wasn’t shy or afraid to talk to him, I just didn’t know what to say. My Korean skills barely improved and my social skills dropped tremendously after I decided to stay homeschooled near the beginning of 6th grade. Not talking to the students or host family didn’t do much to help my withdrawn life. If I was going to talk to Eun again, I had to make a good impression. I wasn’t going to show him any weakness.
The second year passed and I became a third year. When checking the list of students that were in my class I was shocked to find Eun’s name. My heart skipped a beat, I’ve been waiting for this moment since he disappeared from my life. But then, a sudden realization came to me. I only had a year to pull myself together to talk to Eun. This was my last chance before he would slip away from my grasp forever. I needed him to see me at my full potential, I wanted him to tell me that I’ve done a good job to get myself this far.
From then on, I forced myself to come out of my room more, talking to the other students or attempting to speak broken Korean to my host family. Mrs. Ryu was very understanding of my situation and was patient whenever I forgot the words or used the wrong sentence structure. She was used to this after all her youngest daughter was still in primary school. Although Mr. Ryu was busy with his work, he would dedicate his free time to assist me as well by taking me around the city so I can practice my speech. Their sons who were my age tried their best to help me out too by inviting me to play word games. The students were also willing to help me out with my Korean and in return, help them out with their studies. While I did keep my distance to avoid being too close to them, I could consider them to be my friends.
I looked at Eun in class, who was sitting in the front row. I bit my lip, my heart raced fast, and my mind went blank. As soon as the final bell rang, I grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him towards me.
“Eun, it’s nice to see you again,” I say in almost perfect Korean.
“C-Chrys!?” his brown eyes widened, but returned back to their normal, gentle state, “Wow your Korean is really good! It’s so nice to meet you again after all of these years.”
He pulls me in for a hug. If he just took the moment to look at my face, he could tease me for being so unreasonably flustered.
I reluctantly pushed him away, “Would you like to join my study group?”
“I would love to,” he said, “When? Right now?”
“Uh yeah that can work, I gotta text my host mom first.”
“Oh wow, you came here from a student exchange program? I seriously thought your family moved here.”
“My host mom says she’s okay with it, how about your parents?”
“Yeah just texted them too, I can go. Lead the way Chrys.”
We took the subway to the house I was staying at. After opening the door, I led Eun into my room.
“How is it like living with a host family?” Eun asked after he sat down on the chair near my desk.
“It’s pretty good. It’s like a second family to me,” I replied and sat down on another chair.
“I’ve always wanted to live with a host family in America, but my father had relatives there and he prefered if I stayed with actual family members,” Eun said while pulling out his papers from his backpack, “So how was everyone when I was gone?”
“I dunno to be honest, I became homeschooled after a year of being in that advanced placement program,” I said while also taking papers out and books from my shelf.
“Homeschooled? What for?” Eun accepted the book I handed him.
“School is too slow for me, I like to learn at my own pace,” I was partially telling the truth, I couldn’t tell him that he was the reason why I did this.
“So you moved to Korea out of all places for that?” he seemed suspicious, “When did you come here?”
“Two years ago,” I barely disclose, “I was a first year here.”
“What?! Why didn’t you tell me?” Eun counted his fingers, “You skipped three grades?! That’s very impressive!”
“It was supposed to be a secret,” I said, “So what happened to you while I was focusing on my studies?”
“My father had a stroke and needed my care when my mother was away at work,” Eun said, “It’s Korean tradition to have the children take care of their parents in times like this, after all, they cared for me all of my life and this was the only way to repay the debt. I had to balance caring for him while also focusing on my studies. I’m sorry that I never got the chance to talk to you.”
“It’s fine, you had too much on your plate already,” I peered into the familiar Jindo dust plug that was placed inside of the audio jack on his smartphone, “Dude, you still have the phone charm I gave you?”
“Of course,” he grabbed onto the charm rubbing the puppy’s head, “It’s my good luck charm. I’ve never failed a test because of this.”
He’s such a loser, I can’t believe it.
Eun looked around my room and noticed the “Hang in there” cat poster, “Hey, that’s the poster I drew for you. I can’t believe you brought it with you from America.”
Shoot, I knew I should’ve hidden the poster somewhere.
I immediately changed the subject, “We should actually study for next week’s test. I heard this year is going to be more strict.”
“Yes, but I’m sure if both of us work together we can pull this through.”
We ended up studying for a few hours until it was almost midnight. While most parents in America would freak out if their kids stayed up this late at their friend’s house to study, Korean parents were more understanding. After all, education is an obsession here; it’s a way to become successful in life. Korean parents want their kids to succeed even it if it means they come home late.
“Hey Eun,” I call his name during our lunch period, “We have should make room to study for the CSAT test coming up soon.”
“Yes but,” his eyebrows fell, “I have to take care of my father again. His muscles are giving in. I’m sorry about this, we can make it up next time. I promise.”
Our study time kept getting shorter and shorter. Most of the time, I ended up studying with the other host students or alone but I felt guilty. One time, I offered to study at his house but he preferred not to. His father wasn’t really fond of guests especially when he was feeling sick. I wonder sometimes how Eun managed to study while caring for his father, but that question was solved quickly when I caught him sneaking notes during the most recent test. I never interrogated him about it, it must be hard for him to deal with this alone.
November came around, it was hard not to mention about the upcoming test that was going to happen in a week.
“Eun, are you going to take the CSAT? I think your father might understand if I come over since this is a really big test and all.”
“I’m not taking it.”
I spat out my banana milk, “Wait, what do you mean you’re not taking the test?”
“Chrys, please don’t worry about me.”
“But, you studied hard for this. This test only happens once a year, you can’t skip out on this!”
“Chrysanthos,” Eun had a weak smile, “You’re taking the test for the both of us. Figuratively I mean. I wish you the very best. I’ll be with you in spirit.”
My mind flickered back to the present, with the CSAT booklet and scantron in front of me. I didn’t notice that I was already on the Math portion of the test. After this, I have the English portion, an hour lunch break, and the Social Science portion before I can return home. I didn’t know how long this is going to take, but I knew it would going to be hours.
I begin to hear some strange banging noises from outside of the class and as well as the phrase, “break a leg” in Russian. Oh god, don’t tell me that my parents are here. The shouting of the phrase gradually grows louder as well as the banging of the Buben instrument. That voice and banging are definitely coming from my godforsaken parents. While the noise did stop because it would disturb the other students, I can’t help but smile like a fool. As much as I dislike my parents performing cringy acts, I know that deep down they care about me enough to travel across the world to support me. I think about my host family as well, although I practically ignored them for two years and barely talked to them this year, they are still supporting me and the others at the temple. I think about the host students that I studied with and know they are also cheering for me. Our efforts of studying together will not go to waste. The final thought was geared towards Eun. The sole reason why I became who I am today, the person I admired from afar, and most of all, my motivation to keep trying. Everyone I know is supporting my efforts, I can’t disappoint them. I took a deep breath and focus my entire mind and soul on this test. I am certain that I will pass.
The test results arrive in the second week of December. My host mom calls all of the students to the living room to open our letters to check out our scores. She wants us to open our letters one at a time so we can personally congratulate everyone on their achievements. One by one, everyone opens their letters. So far, all of them have passing scores. After they finished, the spotlight was on me. I open my letter immediately and look at the score that was printed on the paper.
A perfect score.
“Chrys! Great job!” everyone congratulates me.
“Amazing! I’m so happy to have housed such excellent students,” Mrs. Ryu smiles, “Let’s have a celebration when my husband comes back from work.”
When Mr. Ryu came home, the house fills with a delicious aroma. Glass noodles, barbecued beef, steak, kimchi, and pork chops sit on the table. Decorations spew across the walls. Happy fun times.
When the celebration was over, I urgently message Eun.
“Eun, this is important. Please meet me by the arching bridge in Seoul Forest.”
Soon after I send that text, I go to the park and remain stationary at the bridge, waiting for Eun to arrive.
“Chrys,” Eun is out of breath, “What happened? Is everything okay?”
I show him my score.
“What?! A perfect score?! That’s wonderful!” Eun hugs me so hard that he lifts me in the air, “I’m sure any SKY university would be willing to accept you.”
“What college do you plan on going to?” I ask.
Eun drops me, but thankfully it isn’t from a huge height, “I’m…I’m going to a nearby Junior College. I need to be close by in case my father needs me again.”
“I’m going there too,” I say almost instantly, “As long as we’re together, then I’m okay.”
“What?!” Eun is shocked, “No, don’t do that. You got a perfect score, not that many students get a perfect score! Please don’t waste it on a Junior College. Besides, it’s too easy for you. A SKY university is bound to be a challenge.”
“No,” I clench my fists, “I don’t want to be apart from you again!”
“That doesn’t matter, we can always keep in touch. If you’re staying in Korea then we can talk whenever you like!”
“You don’t understand. I—” I take a deep breath, “I skipped three grades and came to Korea to see you! You’re my motivation! The reason why I got a perfect score is that you motivated me! I was absolutely miserable when you were gone, I felt this empty hole missing in my heart. It was then that I realized that it was your presence all along that made me inspired!”
He’s speechless, “B-But still I think you should—”
“Eun, I love you!” I confess my honest true feelings.
“Chrys,” Eun turned away, “I’ll never talk to you again if you dare to apply to the Junior College. I promise that over my dead body.”
Did he not feel the same way? I can’t tell, all I can see was the pain in his heart from behind him.
“It was really nice to meet you Chrysanthos. I hope we see each other again someday.”
He walks away, leaving me alone on that very day.
I realized in my adult years that my feelings for Eun were simply infatuation. One can argue that it was true love because of my dedication, but that wasn’t the case. I placed him on a pedestal and looked up to him greatly, but my young teenage mind couldn’t comprehend it. All along, it was me who motivated myself, not him. It was me who stayed up late nights studying and the one who brought myself together. Eun was just the push I needed for my journey.
After that incident, Eun acted like nothing happened and we continued being friends despite going to different colleges. However, our friendship gradually dwindled because we had to focus on our own lives and our studies. I never found out if he returned those same feelings as I had, but over time I realized he probably did. He made a sacrifice so I could achieve greatness. If he had admitted that he loved me as well, then there would have been no way to convince me to go to a University. I applaud him for that but I also hated him for that as well. Although I didn’t get together with Eun, I acquired something greater. I gained knowledge, friendship, family, and most of all a purpose in life.
I’m happy to say that I enjoy my job helping students find what makes them passionate and what sets them off to go on an adventure to discover themselves. Before I go, I’d like to give my final thanks to Eun for making me realize this on my three-year stay in Korea. Thank you, Eun, for everything. Maybe someday, I’ll find you and we can talk again once more.
Until we meet again. 다음에 봐.