Last Saturday (May 15) was “스승의날”, “Teacher’s Appreciation Day” in Korea. In the US, college and graduate students don’t do anything special for that day. It’s mostly a preschool to high school teachers’ day. After all, college “professors” are not really teachers in the commonly used sense of the word.
So I was pretty surprised to see many of my colleagues receive flowers and other gifts from their graduate students on Friday. Taesik was treated to lunch by his students and brought home a box of chocolate (and I ate ~90% of it). And as I saw some Twitter messages saying “I got these flowers from my students”, I was pretty jealous, I have to say. At the same time, I wondered what it all means. Do Korean students feel more appreciative of their graduate advisors’? Do the advisors take on more responsibilities, other than purely academic advice, for their students?
There are definitely cultural differences between the American and Korean advisor-student relationships. Certainly the language shows clear differences. American graduate students (at least in computer science) address their advisors by first name. In Korea, my students call me “Professor”. Students use an honorific form of the language to their advisors, and the advisors do not. I feel that the formality of the language acts as a barrier against really open discussions and exchanges of idea between the student and the advisor. In general, the Korean advisor-student relationship seems much more vertical, and hence, I think, the ballyhoo on teacher’s day.
Anyway, as I was pondering these thoughts, I felt relieved that my students did not shower me with flowers and presents. I felt that I am not really a “teacher” to my graduate students, as they seem to teach me more than I teach them. I also felt that I don’t really deserve the label “teacher” yet, since I have not graduated any students, and in perhaps ten years, by the time I have produced a few Ph.D.s, I will feel more deserving of the label “teacher”.
But as I walked into my office this morning, I found flowers and balloons on my desk, and messages of appreciation and love on my board. And all my “deep” thoughts about what it means to be a teacher just disappeared into the cloud. I am just enjoying the flowers, and most of all, the love of my students. As I read somewhere in Twitter this morning, people crave power because ultimately, power brings them love and attention. I hope that my students love me not only because I have the powers to sign or deny their theses, but because they truly appreciate what I try to do.
I love my students.