The out-of-bounds disrespect
Jenny Cho, Seoul, South Korea

This is a story of a small comment that caused an outsized hurt.

Jenny Cho teaches writing and literature classes at a small private academy in Seoul. Her students are privileged and wealthy — they carry Chanel wallets and wear designer duds — a sharp contrast to Jenny’s former high school self. Her own family struggled with money when she was growing up.

When she overheard a summer session student laughing at her “cheap” shirt one day, it surfaced painful feelings of inferiority. She was shaken. And humiliated.

“So after that, I would try to make myself feel better by going to the expensive malls and buying something super overpriced and then returning it,” she says. “It sounds so silly now! And I realized it was pointless because it’s not who I am. What I was wearing was so superficial. But what I had to offer intellectually was so much more.”

To stop judging herself through the eyes of these privileged kids, she focused on her own values: her love of writing, her commitment to shaping her students, and the hard work she has put into honing her skills.

She also resolved to always carry herself in a way that garnered respect, including setting boundaries in the classroom. “I’m not there to be their friend,” she says. “I’m there to impart skill. Even one student saying ‘I’ve learned so much from you’ makes it worth it.”

And a little empathy has gone a long way to help her forgive the student who disrespected her. “He was very young, maybe a junior in high school,” Jenny says. “He probably thought I would take it lightly, because I liked to be funny in class. It shouldn’t have bothered me in the first place. But I’m a human being, and so I was embarrassed about it.”