This year I had the opportunity to add some spice to the ever famous “What Did I Do This Summer” essay. Twenty three years ago, my mother came to America as a mail order bride. She did not know the language or culture. Two decades later, after saving and hard work, we finally had the opportunity to visit South Korea, her home country.
Visiting a foreign country is often an expensive affair, so we focused on making our trip as inexpensive as possible. One of the biggest money eaters in any trip is the lodging. We chose to stay in small motels called yogwans, noted by the neon burning canoe signs. For 25,000 won (about twenty U.S. dollars) we could obtain a tiny room to sleep in, fit with a small television and bathroom. They may not make the most comfortable places to stay in, but each contains rich character indicative of the land.
If I have learned one thing over the years, Koreans love to eat well and healthy. They supplement all meals with a healthy serving of rice and a variety of side dishes. The side dishes are not like American in many aspects, as they consist mostly of vegetables, spiced vegetables, and pickled vegetables with meat thrown in. This was a big shock to my system as I yearned for milkshakes and pizza. They have scattered the Ma and Pop style restaurants throughout any city, and for a small price, one can eat a satisfying meal.
The Korean Folk Village was a small traditional town that illustrates Korea’s thousands of years of rich culture. Here they hosted theatrical performances, including dances and stunts on horseback. My mother and I befriended one of the performers. After visiting with him we learn his family lived in Sokcho, a beach resort town on Korean’s west side. We had previously decided to visit this area, so we took the opportunity to visit his family. They invited me to stay and learn more about the culture. I accepted the opportunity to stay for an additional five weeks. The chance to live with a Korean household was a dream come true. I soon called them Auntie and Uncle, as it is the custom in Korean culture. We could not speak each other’s language so we used hand gestures and travel guides. This family let a complete stranger into their home. They gave me a cultural experience of a traditional Korean family. Auntie and Uncle treated me like a daughter, and we quickly connected. I never realized how important family was in Korean society until I was welcomed with open arms into one.
I spent most of my time with Auntie. She taught me of the culture she was raised in. As the days went by, she advised me on how things are done in her society, and taught me lessons such as to look my best no matter where we go. Each person and place we visited was treated with kindness and generosity, we helped all we could. I began to see even more differences in Korean culture everyday, becoming more enlightened as to the culture in which my mother grew up in. It helps me to understand why my mother is different, such a priceless lesson.
Even though my hosts and I could not speak the same language, we bonded like family. This trip altered my outlook on life, and for that, and many other reasons, it will always hold a special place in my heart. There are not enough words to express my feelings about this life changing trip.
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