Since I’ve come back from my summer in Korea, I have been unable to properly convey how much the experience changed me. I could easily ramble off the list of facets that made my summer unique and unforgettable - the food, the culture, the city. What I remember most fondly, however, and what truly made my summer, was my time with my host family - more specifically, the myriad car rides I took with my host mom.
What’s so special about a car ride? At the beginning of the program, I would have asked the same question. My first car ride with the family was awkward at best, and not something I’d like to repeat; the whole family seemed to be walking on eggshells, tiptoeing around the intricacies of the English language as they tried to communicate with me.
In the coming days, the situation improved. I was speaking with my siblings, going to school on the bus by myself, and coming home each day with a new tidbit of Korean. Despite this, however, I was woefully boring. Songdo was big, and my American friends didn’t live near me, so I ended up coming home from school as soon as class ended, bursting through the door at 4:30pm sharp and having to sit around in our apartment until dinnertime. After a week of watching way too much daytime television after school, I came home to find my mom holding her purse in one hand and her car keys in the other. “쇼핑하러 가자!” (Let’s go shopping!)
Going out with my host mom quickly became one of my favorite activities. Sometimes we went to my family’s favorite bakery to pick up 초코빵 (chocolate bread) and then surreptitiously snacked on it back in the car, giggling and chatting as we munched in the darkness of the car park. Sometimes we went to the grocery store, where my mom would employ her loudest Korean to negotiate seafood prices above the roar of the customers, and then suddenly switch back to her soft voice to point out the different produce to me, repeating its name in 한굴 slowly for me. Other times we just took car rides to spend time with each other; we drove around the island, belting Maroon 5 and Bon Jovi together and intermittently pulling over to admire the sunset.
My summer would not have been as lovely as it was without my host mother. Thanks to her, I got to see Korea through the lens of a Korean citizen, not an American student. In essence, it suffices to say that I would return to Korea for an innumerable list of reasons - but a car ride with 엄마 is at the top of that list.
Isabella was a participant of the 2016 NSLI-Y Korea summer program.