Two weekends ago we had our first home stay experience in Korea. It was for a holiday called Chuseok, which is frequently described as Korean Thanksgiving. Everyone gets time off work and school and travels to their hometowns to see their families. Everyone eats and plays games before returning to their normal busy lives back wherever they came from. In China there is a similar holiday called the Mid-Autumn festival, which is what I am more used to celebrating with my family. There was a little bit of sadness in not eating moon cakes with my family, but in lieu of that there’s nothing I’d want more than to spend it experiencing the way its done in Korea.
One of my buddies who helps volunteer and translate for me every Tuesday, MiRae, is a very pretty student at Hannam University who has a joyful, loud, and infectious laugh. She took me to her hometown in DaeChon. DaeChon is a city by the sea that is west of DaeJeon (where I live). She grew up in a place called the DaeChon Children’s Welfare Center with her brother and many other children.The CEOs there are a very kind elderly couple who welcomed me in. When I say kind I mean the kind of sweet warmth that makes you feel like you are a grandchild of theirs they haven’t seen in years, and they are happy to see you eat. There were many moments during the weekend when they wanted me to eat with them and talk with them, which was a bit of a challenge because of the language barrier, but worth every bit of meaning we could get across. I got a quick tour and met many many people ranging from age 2 to college age in a short period of time. The rooms were separated by age and gender, and MiRae greeted everyone like the old friends they were that had grown up together.
Many of the children and high schoolers (and college students) were nervous to talk to me. I tried my best to speak Korean, though my knowledge is so limited that it was mostly limited to introductions and saying “yes” or “I don’t know.” MiRae and her friends took me to the beach in the middle of the night. I got to see the beautiful coast and have some bingsoo at the cafe that MiRae used to work at. The statues down the coast said “Welcome to Boryeong City,” which confused me. I asked MiRae later, “Aren’t we in DaeChon? Is Boryeong City in DaeChon?” to which she replied, “No, they’re the same thing!” I think I might still be confused. Boryeong City is known for their annual mud festival which brings many tourists to the area. To my delight we went out for Noraebang (Karaoke) that night as well. Noraebang is a personal favorite of mine. I sang mostly English songs, but I really loved listening to the Korean songs the other girls sang.
That first night I spent in a separate house with a few of the girls watching Hercules and eating spicy chicken. Well, I guess I watched Hercules in English with Korean subtitles – the one with Dwayne the Rock Johnson – while the girls talked with each other.
In the morning they decided to help me put on some makeup because I normally wear none. I had a chance to go to Boryeong Harbor and meet MiRae’s mentor. We watched Maze Runner 2 (in English with Korean subtitles) while everyone else watched a historical Korean movie and met up with another of MiRae’s friends later.
MiRae took a lot of care to make sure I was comfortable, and tried to encourage all her friends to speak to me in English. I hate to admit, but it was much easier for me when they could speak English. I hope my Korean improves enough so that I can get to know people without them needing to speak my language. There were many very kind fun personalities that I wish I had the opportunity to speak with more, but couldn’t because of my lack of language abilities. We stayed up late the last night with MiRae’s mentor and friend discussing English jokes (Why is six afraid of seven? Because seven eight/ate nine!) and getting jobs after college.
The last day was spent sleeping in, and going out to lunch with everyone. MiRae’s mentor drove us back to DaeJeon (we took a bus to DaeChon). Chuseok was a never ending food fest. Even after we ate we ate more, then went out for a snack. Overall the weekend was a really rare glimpse into a part of Korean life that I’ve never seen before. I’m glad I had the opportunity to meet so many new people and share so many meals with them. MiRae’s home was filled with a lot of love and a very large family that I was happy to join if only for a weekend.
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