Day 1…

2 Sep

***

Before I came to Korea I decided that it would be best to do a homestay, rather than rent my own place, for the year.

Now, I would like to point out that doing a homestay in a foreign country is definitely not for everyone – those who heavily value freedom to do whatever, whenever they want, or those who just want to learn about the culture from a safe distance should probably not bother.

Furthermore, there is a chance that you could end up with a family that isn’t very nice or accommodating and as such have a really hard time…

I had learned from my teacher Mrs Cho, that her friend in Seoul was willing to take on one of the exchange students from my university, to live with her and her family. I had reservations about doing a homestay with complete strangers, but because Mrs Lee (My homestay mother to be) was a close friend of Mrs Cho I felt much more happy with doing it.

The reason why I decided to do a homestay was primarily because I wanted to throw myself in the deep end and also ‘Cuz maybe i’m just crazy like that! ;p

Also, I figured that by doing a homestay I could learn the language and culture of Korea intimately, intensely and quickly. I also made that choice because of my health – having only just been diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis less than a year ago, I didn’t want to take any chances and felt it was best to have the support of a family at home.

Of course, I know that because of this choice I won’t be able to do some of the things that the others from my class can do – going out drinking until whenever, staying out all night, coming and going as one pleases, etc… But to be honest, now that I have to take better care of my health, those things aren’t really on the cards anyway…

Again, there is the chance that it could go horribly wrong and as such I worried insistently before leaving England… I kept thinking things like: “what if they don’t like me?”, “what if I don’t like them?”, “what if their rules are too strict?”, “what if I use the wrong form of language and offend them?”, etc…

But… I knew that I wouldn’t know unless I tried…

And now I am very glad I that did…

***

Having arrived late into Incheon, I was very worried about my homestay mother – she had e-mailed me saying that she would meet me at the airport and because she was so kind as to do so, I didn’t like the idea of putting her out more by having to wait for me for a long time…

So, as soon as I got off the plane, I raced over to the arrivals side of the airport (there is a kind of underground train that connects departures to arrivals and will usually be absolutely chock-a-block packed), jumped on a lift up to immigration (the doors were about to close as I ran towards it and I surprised both myself and the Korean people inside by shouting “please wait!” in Korean!), went through immigration (the man at the desk was surprised to learn that I wrote on the immigration card my details in Korean) and grabbed my bag at the designated collection point before running to the bathroom, bags-an-all, to change into a set of fresh, smart clothes.

As soon as I had changed and grabbed a luggage trolly, I took out the present I had bought for my homestay family (A set of 3 premium types of loose tea from Harrods and a packet of very English style shortbread biscuits from Marks and Spencers), popped it in a stylish gold gift bag, popped everything on the trolly and rolled out into the waiting area to greet my new family…

***

Up until then I had no idea what they looked like or what kinds of things they liked (the gift of tea and biscuits I figured was something anyone could enjoy) and the from the moment I got off the plane I was pretty damn nervous about meeting them… So much so, I even asked a Korean member of staff on the plane what would be appropriate to say when greeting them and presenting my gift…

***

As soon as I stepped out into the waiting area my eyes scanned around, looking at all the signs being held up, searching for my name…

And there it was.

“Kisandura”

I couldn’t help but giggle a little – my real name is Cassandra, but my homestay mom had misread it when I typed it in Korean (Kasandura).

The person holding up my name was a small, pretty, very kind and motherly looking Korean lady. As soon as she saw me recognize my name, her face lit up with a wonderfully warm smile and she motioned for me to go over.

At that moment, every worry that had occupied my mind over the past couple of weeks before coming to Korea melted away and I knew I had made the right decision.

***

When I got over to her, I bowed and attempted to introduce myself formally… Speaking Korean has never been my strong point and so, coupled with my nervousness, I made a bit of a botched job of it.

I apologized for not being able to speak Korean very well but she smiled understandingly and told me in slightly broken (but nonetheless understandable) English that it was ok and that I shouldn’t worry and then motioned for me to follow her down to where her car was parked, waiting to take us home.

It was stuffy and hot outside the airport and I suddenly realized how sweaty my hands had become from clutching the handle bar of the trolly with one hand, my passport by the other. I made a mental note not to drop my passport and held onto it even tighter as we went down in a lift to the airport’s car park.

Once at the car, we loaded my luggage into the back seat (my suitcase was too big to fit in the boot!!), put my trolly away, got in and started the journey home…

On the way back I realized how tired and nervous I was – I didn’t speak much but I felt very happy as my homestay mom talked a little about her family and house and about Korea…

***

We finally arrived and (despite my protests that I could do it by myself) together heaved my huge suitcase up the stairs of the building to my new home…

We were greeted at the front door by my adorable ‘little brother’, Doull. Then we took my stuff to my new room…

Doull presented me with a rose as a welcoming gift and my homestay Mother asked me if I wasn’t too tired to go out for a meal with them. I was tired but of course I wasn’t going to pass up her offer – for a start, it would have been rude to do so, and I also wanted to get to know my new family more…

So then we all got in the car and went to a nearby Chinese restaurant (옥향루 “Ok-hyang-ru”) where we waited for my homestay Father to meet us…

As we were waiting I learned many things about my homestay Mother and Doull – My homestay Mother (47 – now to be referred to as OMMA, the Korean word for Mother) is a respected and talented textile designer who loves art, and Doull (13) is very energetic, loves sports and loves soothing piano music. I also learned that Doull is studying abroad at a boarding school in England just for a short period of time – he is just here at home during the holidays until the 12th and then will be back permanently in Korea from January.

When my homestay Father (from now will be referred to as APPA the Korean word for Father) arrived I rose from my seat to greet him formally. He smiled kindly and motioned for me to sit down and with that we ordered our food and ate heartily.

I didn’t want to seem rude or picky and pretty much ate everything put in front of me until finally, half way through a bowl of Jajangmyun (Noodles in Black Bean sauce) I really could not manage another single bite and so apologized. They chuckled and told me that I didn’t have to eat anymore (or apologize for not being able to do so).

After we had all stopped eating we promptly left to stop off at the local supermarket to pick up some stuff before heading back home…

***

I was absolutely knackered and so headed off to bed early… But before I feet asleep in my new bed I thought about how lucky I was, and about the excitement of the year to follow…

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One Response to “Day 1…”

  1. Helen October 27, 2010 at 11:57 PM #

    I love your posts – keep writing Cassandra! haha!

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