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[LLG] She was his homeroom teacher, now they share a life together

From student and teacher to husband and wife, one couple shares unconventional love story to spread value of true love in society

By Song Seung-hyun

Published : Jan. 17, 2024 - 15:37

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Kook Hye-min (left) and Park Min-hyeok (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald) Kook Hye-min (left) and Park Min-hyeok (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

In a country where love often bends to fit societal expectations, the captivating tale of Kook Hye-min and Park Min-hyeok has emerged, defying conventional social norms.

With clickbaity titles like “The story of marrying your high school homeroom teacher at age 21," the couple’s Instagram account has amassed over 30,000 followers in a mere four months.

As their unconventional love story has unfolded, reactions from the public have varied.

Some see it as unacceptable according to South Korea's social norms, while others praise it as a rare and genuine love story in a place and time dominated by materialistic ideals.

Before passing judgment, why not hear them out? The couple opened up and shared their story of true love with The Korea Herald on Dec. 8.

High school beginnings

Kook says:

In 2013, at the age of 26, Kook stepped into the classroom for the first time as a high school biology teacher. Her stomach was queasy with anxiety.

"Being looked down on by the students, especially the boys -- that was my biggest fear at the time," she said. She had even practiced her sternest glare ahead of time.

Did Park, who would later become her husband, stand out among the boys?

Kook’s earliest recollection of him was when he volunteered to be her class assistant.

"He was helpful, no doubt," she recalled. "But honestly, every classroom had its own 'Min-hyuk.'"

She was already in a relationship -- a toxic one -- at that time, she said.

Her then-boyfriend was dismissive and acted like he was too good for her. "Therapists aren't supposed to give you direct love-life advice," she said. "But mine did. I was told that he was no good for me."

Two years later, in 2015, she became a homeroom teacher for a class of third-year students. Park was in it. While she lacks memories of him specifically, she remembers that year's class as the best she ever had.

"Those kids were pure confidence boosters for me," she said.

Park says:

To Park, Kook was memorable from day one.

“She was as cute as a little chick in her bright yellow top,” he said, recalling the first day he saw her in biology class. And before he even knew it, his hand went up, volunteering to be her assistant.

His admiration continued to grow when she became his homeroom teacher.

"It was a classic crush on a teacher," he said. "One conversation with her felt like time was just flying by."

Park’s dream at that time was to become a military pilot, and he got accepted to the Air Force Academy after graduation. But three months in, he realized that it wasn't for him, and dropped out in April.

This was also around the time his entire family decided to move to Germany. He decided to tag along and spend a year there with them.

"Then it came to me that I really wanted to go meet my favorite homeroom teacher," Park said. Because the training for the Air Force Academy’s new enrollees began in January, he hadn't been able to attend his high school graduation, where he could have said goodbye to his teachers and taken pictures with them in person.

And so, with a friend in tow, he went to see Kook.

Reunion as adults

Kook says:

“There had been a fight among my students the day Min-hyuk came to visit. The fight was intense, with a window shattering, and blood was splattered everywhere," Kook said, looking concerned.

When she saw Park, tears welled up in her eyes. His presence reminded her of the days she'd enjoyed so much with her class the year before.

It was on this day that Park alluded to the fact that he still has a crush on her, but she didn't take it seriously.

She was still seeing her then-boyfriend at the time, and Park also told her he was moving to Germany with his family.

"He told me he would come back a year later, which I didn’t really believe. I thought once he'd experienced a bigger world in Germany, he would forget about me," Kook said.

As she'd anticipated, Park did not stay in touch.

Then, one day, about a year later, she found him waiting for her outside her classroom. Every day for the next two weeks, he came to see her at school.

"That was when I started taking him seriously," she said.

Even though she genuinely enjoyed her time with him, lingering doubts remained. It had been only a few months since her previous relationship of six years had ended, and she wanted her next relationship to be something serious, leading to marriage.

"I was 29 and looking to get married, but he was too young," she explained.

Kook told him to stop coming to see her at school, and that seemed like the end of their time together.

Around two weeks later, she was at her church, and during the worship service, the pastor’s words touched her deeply.

"He told us, 'God wants us to be happy and set us free from any restrictions,'" she said.

Upon hearing those words, Kook messaged Park, sending him a quiz about one's love languages.

"Our results were the same. We both value quality time spent with each other the most. That’s when I thought the connection that I felt with him was real," she said.

But she could not give up on her goal of getting married, so she told him that if he didn't want to get married soon, she wouldn't be able to start a relationship with him.

Park’s answer was "I do," she said joyfully.

Park says:

For Park, the year he spent in Germany was all about Kook.

He kept a diary in which he wrote short letters to Kook that he never sent. He said was counting the days until he would go back to Korea and get to see her.

When Park finally returned to Korea, his first two weeks back felt like a dream.

When they had met a year before, he hadn't been able to express his feelings for her fully, hindered by their previous roles as teacher and student, as well as the thought of Kook's then-boyfriend. However, a year later, he felt freer to express himself, he recalled.

"I visited her at school every day for around two weeks, and after we'd hang out, I'd walk her home," he shared.

These dreamy days took a sudden nosedive when Kook told him she wasn't interested in a relationship so to stop visiting her at school.

The next 11 days, he recalls precisely, felt like hell for Park.

"I didn't do anything. I stayed in bed and I muted everything on my phone except Hye-min on KakaoTalk, in case there were any messages from her," he said.

When a KakaoTalk message from her finally arrived on May 27, he nearly leaped with joy.

"To this day, I celebrate May 27," he declared.

When asked whether he had ever wondered why Kook had sent him a love language quiz on that day, he replied, "Nope."

But he clarified that he had been so excited by the fact that she'd messaged him that its content didn't seem to matter.

Hurdles

Kook says:

Kook felt valued by Park, which made her feel like she'd stumbled upon the kind of relationship she'd always wanted.

The strong connection they had made them feel like they truly knew each other inside out. Their decision to marry took less than seven months to make.

Breaking news of their wedding in her school was challenging, she recalled. It was still the school where the two had first met as teacher and student, so not all of her colleagues were supportive. The school principal advised her to keep news of her wedding quiet.

“I know two couples like you guys, and they both ended up in divorce," one of her colleagues said.

Kook explained that even now, she gets emotional when talking about those negative perceptions.

The next year, after their wedding, she transferred to a different high school, but nonetheless still kept the story of how they'd met hidden for a while.

"I was afraid of being judged," she admitted.

Park says:

Park recounted the moment he introduced Kook to his mother in Germany.

“Honestly, when I talked about Hye-min coming to see Mom, my mom did not take it very well,” he said.

Holding her hand tightly, Park introduced Kook to his mom at a cafe in Frankfurt. His mom instructed him to sit at another table and wait for her to have a conversation with Kook first.

“I tried to eavesdrop, but I could not hear anything, and then my heart sank when I saw Hye-min start to cry,” he said.

Later, he received the good news that his mom had actually approved of their relationship.

Kook says:

“I had met Min-hyuk’s mom as a parent and a teacher,” Kook said. “So I was so nervous before meeting her again as my future mother-in-law. I imagined all kinds of scenarios: what would I do if she were to hand me an envelope full of cash, like in K-dramas," she said, referring to a cliche in Korean dramas of a disapproving mother-in-law trying to bribe her child's partner not to marry them.

When Kook sat down with Park’s mom, Park's mom told her she had come out to meet her only to tell her that she did not approve of their relationship.

"She told me that everyone in her social circle had advised her to disapprove of our relationship," she said.

"But as she watched us walking toward her holding hands, we looked so harmonious that she simply couldn't say she disapproved."

It was such a happy moment for Kook that she broke into tears of relief.

Spreading love

Fast-forward to 2023. Park has also become a high school teacher. They've been married for six years and now have two children.

When asked why they decided to share their love story on social media, both expressed a desire to highlight the value of true love, which is often overlooked here.

“We started our Instagram account after witnessing horrible things happen in society, such as the stabbing sprees in Bundang and Sillim,” Park said, referring to a series of seemingly random knife attacks in public places last summer.

This society is in need of more love stories, to counter narratives of hate, violence and fear, he stressed.

For Kook, how materialistic society has become was one reason to share her marriage story. When they decided to get married, Park had no job and almost nothing in his bank account.

During her appointments with students, Kook has noticed a shift in their aspirations and dreams since she first became a teacher, she noted.

“Previously, students used to express their passion for singing, aspiring to become a singer, for instance. However, these days, students say they want to become a doctor because their mom told them to or because doctors earn a lot of money,” she said.

Marking its 71st year of storytelling, The Korea Herald is presenting a new biweekly series -- the LLG. Standing for living, loving and growing, this series will go beyond the realm of daily news, exploring the vibrant tapestry of modern life, as told by real people. -- Ed.