My kindergarten was very concerned when they first asked, “Teacher, you are ‘dum dum duu duuuuuum?’” (humming the wedding song to mean ‘married’) and I said no; after all, aren’t all grown ups married?! But, the knowledge that I had a boyfriend helped ease their anxiety and from that point on my kindergarten wheedled out detail after detail about Jerry until he became such an integral part of class discussion that it felt as if Jerry and K-Blue class had already been introduced. That is why it came as no surprise when everyday throughout the end of November and beginning of December, one of my kindergarteners would squeal “Shelby Teacher! December it is Jean birthday and almost Christmas. And December it is Jerry come!” And when the day finally came for the class to meet “King Peanut Butter Jerry” (as the class had nicknamed him through a series of inside jokes), they were nothing short of star-struck.
Jerry and I arrived in the classroom a few minutes early and as the bell rang and my class rounded the corner they steadily grew quieter and their eyes got wider. Despite all of their bubbly six-year excitement in the previous weeks, they were all exceedingly bashful. Well, all except Joseph who, after only a moment’s pause, leapt onto Jerry to give him his best kindie bear-hug. The shyness lingered as I let them ask Jerry questions, but until Lara asked Jerry where he was from and Claire cut off his response with “Romania! Dracula! You are VAMPIRE!...ooooohhhh!” With that the nervousness evaporated in a storm of giggles and the class seemed much more at ease as Jerry taught them how to say hello and goodbye in Romanian (for the rest of the week “servus” and “pa pa” became common vocabulary, even though they were rarely used correctly). By lunchtime, even the most timid students had loosened up and ate at top-speed so they could have plenty of time with their new plaything; I must say, it was rather adorable to watch them unabashedly hugging him, using him as a jungle gym, and dragging him to join in their games.
But, the fun didn’t stop at kindergarten. Somehow some of the thirteen year-olds had this unshakeable idea that Jerry was a famous professional basketball player. For weeks they begged me to bring him into class, but the fifth floor language program isn’t as welcoming to outside guests, so I promised he would come wait for me after school one day and they could meet him there. Thus, when I came down the stairs after work I saw Jerry being mobbed by half a dozen of my students all snapping photos with their cellphones and demanding autographs as they waved pens and papers in his face. Needless to say, the other teachers were all very confused as they watched this scene unfold, but I was laughing to hard to explain right away.
Clearly, Jerry was a hit at GKI. All the way until Christmas break my kindies pouted about Jerry not being able to come back, and to this day continue to frequently ask about him. And after my older kids’ met Jerry, there really was no convincing them that he isn’t famous (one of them even informed me he went home and laminated Jerry’s signature!) and I’ve long since given up on dissuading them from trying to see him on CNN. I bet he never thought he'd leave Korea with celebrity status.