주연 쌤 저한테 반사를 써 주라고 하셨는데 저는 제 호스트 가족에 대해서 쓰고 있어요. 이 반사를 미국에 보내거나 우리 NSLIY 프로그램 웹사이트에 올릴 것 같아서 저는 영어로 쓸 거예요. 이것은 제 처음 영어로 블로그예요. Juyeon Ssaem asked me to write a reflection, so I am writing one about my host family. Because I think this reflection will be sent to the U.S. or uploaded to our NSLIY website, I was asked to write in English. This is my first blog in English.
반사 = reflection
Wow. Three months. Two different cultures. One loving family.
Many changes, adventures, unexpected events and feelings… yet I can gladly say that all have been for the better. A huge factor in my relatively smooth transition to life in Seoul, South Korea is because of my welcoming, loving host family.
This picture features the first day I met my host mother. It was taken at the YES Center in front of my Korean classroom. It was my third day in Seoul. I am on the far right wearing a blue skirt. My host mother is to the left of me. My friend, Ari, is on the left and is standing beside her host mother and her younger siblings.
I was really nervous the morning we met our host families. At the time, my Korean conversational level was really low. Even introducing myself seemed difficult then. I wanted to make a good first impression, so that morning I looked up words such as “laundry”, “chores”, and “weekend plans”. I wanted to convey that I could independently do these tasks, and that I could complete my share and responsibilities as a family member.
Once I met my new mom I actually forgot all my recently learned words. Maybe I was too excited. Maybe I was overwhelmed. Maybe I was nervous. But my forgetfulness did not end up mattering. As soon as I met my host mom she made it clear that I could call her Omma, which means “Mom” in Korean. I become close with Omma, as well as my new host siblings Seungyoon (18), Jungyoon Onni (23), and Seoyoon Onni (26), very quickly.
From my new family I have learned a lot about Korean culture and daily life, and because of that I feel very thankful.
Here are some things I have done with my family and what I have learned from those activities:
1. Subway: If you ever go to Seoul in the future, then you will need to take the Seoul Subway. Clean, well-connected, fast, modern. The subway can take you anywhere in the city. It is among many other examples of Korea’s modern growth following the Korean War. One of my first activities with Omma was learning how to take the subway to and from Daewon (the high school I am attending).
2. Outdoor Traditional Markets and Chuseok – It was September when I first arrived in Korea, so we went to outdoor traditional markets almost every weekend. One weekend I sold stuff with Omma at a flea market, another weekend we bought food for Chuseok (the Korean Thanksgiving). During Chuseok, Koreans eat a special kind of rice cake filled with sesame seeds called Songpyeon, fried pancakes and vegetables called Jeon, and a special drink made of sweet rice called Sikhye, among many other foods. During Chuseok we went to a Buddhist temple and payed our respects to family members who have passed away.
3. Joseon Dynasty and Changdeokgung Palace – Changdeokgung Palace is one of the five grand palaces from the Joseon Dynasty period. Sunjong, Korea’s last Emperor, stayed here until his death in 1926. The majestic area is now a UNESCO site. I went here with Omma and Jungyoon Onni.
4. Hiking and Korea’s geography – Seoul offers many opportunities to escape the city and explore the mountainous geography. Hiking is a favorite pastime of Koreans. When the weather is nice I like to hiking with Omma. Korea’s mountains are spotted with Buddhist temples (as you can see one in the pictures below). Many Koreans view mountains as a “sacred” place. During the Joseon Dynasty scholars studied in the mountains in order to be closer with nature.
5. K-Drama – Every Friday night my family and I watch a popular Korean drama called 1988. Korea is famous for its Korean dramas. Because of dramas many foreigners gained interest in Korea and decided to learn the language.
6. Suneung Exam (수능), high school life, the Confucian value of studying, economic growth – My host sister, Seongyoon, is a third year high school student. Perhaps one of the hardest years during a Korean’s lifetime. During this last year of high school, Koreans take a test called the Suneung. It is like the American SAT but with much higher stakes and only one chance, starting your third year, to take it per year. It was interesting to be in Korea during this time of the year. High school students are treated as a priority in society, and on the day of the exam my host mother went to the temple to pray while Seongyoon tested. Police cars patrol the streets that day to give rides to any students running late to the test. My classes were cancelled that day. Even planes do not fly over testing areas to reduce noise distraction.
Korean society is based on a Confucianist belief. One of them is that a person is perfected, and made the best person they can be for themselves and for the country, through study. The more one studies the closer they are to become their best-self. This, along with the desire to grow quickly economically and in the rankings of developed countries (following the Korean war), is one of the reasons Korean students study so much. My classmates at Daewon study from 8am every day until 10:30pm.
7. Korea, a land of growth – According the the Human Development Index (a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income per capita indicators) Korea ranks 0.891 (1.00 being the best). The United States ranks 0.914, Norway ranks the best at 0.944, and Niger ranks the lowest at 0.002. Korea, following the Korean War, didn’t even rank to 0.400 in the late 1950s (modern day Eritrea, Burkina Faso, etc’s ranking). Korea has experienced incredible growth, socially, economically, politically, etc., within the last 70 years. I went one day with Seoyoon Onni to see the new Lotte World Tower being built. This office and shopping tower, once completed, will be the tallest on the Korea-peninsula and the 6th tallest in the world.
8. Mealtimes and SPAM – I never really ate SPAM before coming to Korea. Koreans love SPAM. In fact SPAM is so popular here and due to supply and demand, SPAM is very expensive in Korea. This is just a small piece of Korean food culture that always makes me chuckle. In the United States, SPAM seems so inglorious, but in Korea it is a special treat. Here is a picture of me and my family at meals together.
These eight points are just some of many pieces of Korean culture that I have learned with or experienced through my host family. For these experiences, I am very grateful. Each new thing I learn with them makes me more and more interested about Korea and its people.