Andrew Dougherty and Crystal Dougherty are 13 and 15; they attend Yongsan International School of Seoul, an American-based private school which is both Christian and broad-minded. I was particularly interested in their stories because when I was a child my family spent a year in Europe every five years, first in Luxembourg then Germany, where I attended public schools and university; it turned out there were some similarities.
I’ve lived in Korea for almost half of my entire life. I was born here then I was raised in Seguin, Texas in Las Brisas. It was a pretty good neighborhood. I went to a good public school which was very strict, although in the third grade I did get bullied by a classmate. She made fun of me, and it really hurt. When there was a book fair she asked if she could borrow some books for a while. I’d just bought them. Maybe I was too naïve—I don’t know if that’s the right word.
In third grade you should be naïve.
Of course. I thought she meant borrow the books for a day or two, so I gave them to her. A week or so later, my mom went up to her and said, “Can you give me my daughter’s books back?” She handed them back to me. They hadn’t even been taken out of the plastic cover. Then one morning I was called into the principal’s office. My parents were there, and we talked about the things she’d done to me. The next year I didn’t see her, and my mom told me that she’d been expelled.
So when did you come back to Korea? What were your feelings about it?
About four years ago, in November of 2011. My parents told my brother and me a few months earlier. We were a bit upset to be moving out of the home we’d been in for seven years. It’s difficult for an eleven-year-old. But by the time we left I’d gotten used to the idea, and I just carried on like a soldier.
You were also moving from a small town to a big city, right?
Yeah, well, Seoul is a lot bigger than San Antonio. I was kind of happy because I had memories of playing in the apartment and on the US Army base. But it had been a long time ago, and some of my memories were not very clear. I felt kind of neutral about moving. I was not sad. I was not happy. I was somewhere in-between.
My first impression of walking around Seoul was the sidewalks. Mom said to be careful because they weren’t even so I could easily trip while walking. Then I was surprised that people would walk past and wouldn’t say “sorry” or “excuse me” when they bumped into me. Mom told me that it was normal.
If people don’t know you, they’re about as polite as they would be to a lamppost.
Right, then I was introduced to Korean junk food. The sweets weren’t as sweet as American sweets and had a very different taste. Some snacks brought back some memories. like the shrimp snacks, which look like fries, but they’re crunchy, and they have square holes in them.
Actually, I haven’t been outside of Seoul much, no farther than Pyeongtaek, and it only took about two hours to get there. I like Itaewŏn, and some friends of mine live in the area. Mom said that in the 80s and 90s, there was more of a sewer smell than now.
I haven’t noticed a sewer smell, but I don’t have a good sense of smell. What about the school you’re in now?
I’m in the eighth grade at Yongsan International School of Seoul, or YISS for short.
When I was in the eighth grade I was in Germany at a scientific high school for girls.
Well, that sounds pretty interesting. I’ve never been to Europe.
So tell me about your school.
My current school is bigger than the one I used to go to and a bit more conservative. We’re not allowed to wear jeans or a polo shirt with a logo on it. If your stomach shows when you put your arms up, that’s also a violation of the dress code. In middle school you’re not allowed to wear short pants, unlike the elementary school where you get to wear long skirts and shorts.
The school is two years ahead of schools in the States, and that caused me a bit of a struggle when I first came to YISS. We started algebra in the seventh grade. I don’t know if that’s normal.
That was my experience in Germany too. I went from arithmetic, which I had a lot of trouble with, to geometry and algebra, which were much easier for me than arithmetic.
You had both?
The school year started in March instead of September. So I was there for the end of their seventh grade and the beginning of their eighth grade. So we went from geometry to algebra and biology to physics. Everything changed except Latin.
If I’m correct, at YISS there are like four different classes for math: arithmetic, pre-algebra, algebra and geometry. Depending on how advanced you are, in the sixth grade, you take either arithmetic or pre-algebra. In the seventh grade you take either pre-algebra or regular algebra, In the eighth grade you have a choice between algebra and geometry.
Our classes are around one hour and thirty minutes long, but a bit shorter on Fridays because of chapel at the end of the day. There’s a five minute break between the first class and the second class—it used to be ten—and thirty minutes of lunch. Right now I’m taking American History, Science, Media and Technology, PE, English, Algebra, Creative Writing and Speech and then Bible.
When I was in Hamburg, we had Latin six days a week and the other important classes, like math, science and English, German and history we had five days a week. The classes like singing and needlework and gymnastics we had once every two weeks. In your school is there more time given to some classes than others?
It varies according to whether it’s an A-class or a B-class. They meet on alternate days. The only ones I have every day are the electives. For example, Media and Technology, where we do a lot of stuff like filmmaking, yearbook and a little bit of photography.
What about creative writing?
It’s Creative Writing and Speech. We were doing speeches for the last week. We’re doing improv and persuasive speeches.
That sounds like Introduction to Speech in the freshman year of college. You demonstrate how to do something or you select a topic out of a hat.
That’s exactly what we did. I had to talk about my favorite book, so I chose Sherlock Holmes. I’ve became a fan.
Have you seen the television series from the BBC?
Yeah, I have the first two series on my laptop. I’m trying to catch up.
I’ve seen that too. When I was in fifth or sixth grade took some Ellery Queen short story murder mysteries and adapted them into plays. One of them we performed at a Girl Scout overnight with lighting from the fireplace and a big scream coming out of the darkness. It was sort of dramatic. But what kind of stuff have you worked on in the past?
I haven’t done that much writing, but I did the artwork for a book cover. Writing is just what I do when I’m bored.
Ok, I get that. What other things do you like to read?
Sometimes on the internet I read fan fiction and manga.
What classes do you like?
Well, I like all kinds of history. Right now we’re doing American history, starting with the Native American regions that were all over America and got a view of the Native Americans before the European settlers colonized the land. It went on to the colonization, the American Revolution, Manifest Destiny and currently we’re on the American Civil War.
Are you learning anything about Korean history?
We don’t learn much about Korean history. In the past the social studies classes haven’t really focused on that. We do Celebrate Korea, about a week of field trips to museums or towns. We go to a museum or the Korean Folk Village or learn how to make kimchi. Recently we went to Paju Book City, a town where they have a lot of libraries and exhibits about different children’s storybooks, like “Pinocchio,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Little Prince.”
Who are your friends?
There’s Talei Kau, who’s from Fiji. Mya Diffin is from Mexico although she’s American. Maya Hasumi is from Japan. Maja Kristensen is from Denmark, and Katie Palmer is from San Diego.
So this is a really interesting international experience for you because you have friends from so many different places.
Yeah, well, it’s nice to have lots of people in my grade. To tell the truth, after I came back I went to Global Christian Foreign School for fifth grade. It was so small there was only one other person in my grade. She was from Canada. There were four sixth graders, two fifth graders—which was me and my friend—and no fourth graders. Then six kids from third, second and first grade and in kindergarten. It was really cold during the winter, so to save energy I used to make a couch by putting some chairs together so I could take a nap.
If you had a choice between living in Seoul or living in Seguin, which would you pick?
That’s a bit of a hard question. I couldn’t really choose. Both of them are like my hometown, so it would be like picking my favorite child.