Ask Jono: Does The Foreign Kid Like Me, or Is He Merely Foreign?
Did you know that the dot on top of an 'i' is called a tittle? Well, now you do.
I didn't want to start off my letter with the stereotypical "There's this guy..." (Because, strangely, about 95% of your letters are romance-related. I actually went through the necessary calculations to find that percentage. No, I didn't.)
But there is a guy. He moved from his native country to America at the beginning of the school year and so he's got that cute foreign accent. We have chemistry together, in the literal sense. Over time, we've chatted quite a bit and sometimes I feel like some of it is on the verge of flirting, but I'm terrible at guessing these things. So that's why I've come to you, Jono. He playfully slaps me with his binder, doodles on my work, and even (jokingly?) asked me to teach him Chinese (although, I'm far from fluent—I can only barely understand it). I'm not sure what I think of him, he's adorable, and the way he asks me what English words mean is just so cute and childish (one time he asked me what the word "bulge" meant, and I had trouble explaining that one in the presence of other classmates). Of course, the fact that he's a foreigner and one year younger than me may be the reason why I sometimes compare him to a teddy bear. But here's my question—is he flirting or just being the typical confused foreigner? And does it border on cougar-dom if I see him as anything other than a friend or fellow classmate?
You probably already know I'm going to tell you this guy is flirting, and not just being confused. Or... flirting confusedly, I guess. I'll grant that "hit girl with object" is a pretty nontraditional way of flirting, but boy attention is usually a binary thing—if a boy is paying it to you, and you two aren't close friends, then he's doing it because he wants to kiss you on the mouth with his mouth. I can't quite tell whether you want this, but I'll come back to that. You also asked if it's is cougar-y of you to have any interest in him. Yes it totally is, you will go to romance jail. It is illegal to like a boy.
...Of course not! You are not a withered old predatory cougar for possibly being interested in a guy who is like 300 days younger than you, although you might have a touch of senility if you were actually concerned about this. For the record, the rule of thumb is supposed to be "Don't take anyone younger than half your age plus seven," but I don't especially like hard guidelines like this, in part because they always seem to benefit dudes—the only stats I can find on this show 10% of women dating someone 3+ years younger, and 38% of women dating someone 3+ years older. In other words, dudes can get away with going, "Heyyy," and raising their eyebrows suggestively at teenagers, but if a woman does it she is gross and old and should go knit a sweater. Anyway, the point of this tangent is that you're very much allowed to see him as "anything other than a friend," and as far as I'm concerned, this would be true even if there were a few years between you. If you like him, you like him.
But do you like him? I have the brain of a dude, and therefore am used to much more overt expressions of attraction than what I'm getting from your letter. This is probably just one of those gender differences I'll never quite wrap my mind around, though (Girl Attraction: "He is like a child and/or stuffed animal! Glomp!" Guy Attraction: "I would like to procreate with her immediately.") If you can actually picture going out with this guy, then go for it; if picturing him in a romantic context makes you think "Aww, that's cute, like a duck!" then responding to his advances might give him the wrong idea.
And they are advances, despite how innocuous they are. I guess it's possible that his goofy closeness to you is a cultural thing—after all, people from some cultures will literally make out with your face upon meeting you—but that's not the impression I'm getting here. If he treats everyone else this way too, then maybe he's just playful and friendly, but if he behaves differently with you, it's because he cares what you think about him. Sometimes this change is instantaneous (he's slouched over his phone half-asleep, then sees you, and he stands up straighter, squares his shoulders, fixes his hair or clothes, etc.). Other things to look out for: Does he stick around to talk to you instead of heading off to his next class, or walk to your locker, or otherwise try to be around you as long as possible? Does he look at you even when he's already talking to somebody else? Does he draw on your work and hit you with binders and constantly ask you things? Oh wait.
Really, the body language and behavior cues that indicate if someone likes you almost all come down to "being different around you." If he really is, as you wonder, confused and foreign, then he'd be asking everyone to explain slang terms related to dude parts, and playfully smacking everybody with school utensils. If he's a relatively normal human being around everyone else, then all of the stuff he's doing is just his safe, low-pressure way of getting your attention and being around you.