Cheyenne is from LaGrange, GA and participated in the 2017 Korea summer program.
It must have been a strange sight to see 50 kids crying and hugging each other at an airport terminal. It was at Incheon Airport where we were full of excitement at first, then 6 weeks later we arrived back at the airport as a bittersweet moment. For me to have the opportunity to go to Korea was a blessing itself. I have always dreamed and wished of traveling the world, and Korea was the start of my journey. The NSLI-Y scholarship helped me not only to learn a new language, but it also helped me make a new family, make new friends, and it allowed me to be surrounded by a new culture and new environment. I’ll forever be thankful to the U.S. State Department, NSLI-Y, Better World, iEARN, my host family, and everyone else who made my dreams come true.
My dad, uncle, and aunt were in Kuwait for many years while I was growing up, and I know for a fact that me seeing pictures and videos of their travels sparked my interest in languages and traveling. When I found out about NSLI-Y, I quickly took the chance to apply. I remember my parents telling me that they didn’t think I would get it, but I ignored them and kept my hopes high. I remember refreshing my email almost every day, waiting for an update from NSLI-Y. When I found out I was accepted, I was literally so happy that I cried. For me to get a once-in-a-lifetime experience like this . . . I took it as a sign that I was meant to travel and take language learning seriously.
I remember being nervous about meeting my host family even though I wrote my oldest host sister on KakaoTalk almost daily. I was scared to make mistakes, and I didn’t want them to not like me. All that nervousness washed away when they came and picked me up from the hostel and when they struggled to lift my heavy luggage into their trunk. My host mother did not speak a lot of English, but she tried -- and that made me excited to try speaking Korean with her. My sisters knew more English than her; however, they weren’t fluent but they could hold multiple conversations. I remember coming home and they would help me with my homework, and I would help my sisters with their English homework. When we would sit down for dinner, they would teach me new vocabulary like, “숟가락” or “젓가락.” Every day when I returned home, my host mom would ask me how my day was and what I did, so this gave me an opportunity to practice new verb tenses that I learned in class. My host family was always super nice and sweet, so I was really able to bond with them. It’s funny to see that in such a short time you can grow so attached to people.
During the last night with my host family they bought my favorite food and made sure I ate well. I remember trying to hold my tears back, but that night when I went to my room I FaceTimed my mom crying telling her that I didn’t want to leave.
I became very close with four certain people while on the trip, and I’m sure once they read this they will know immediately who I am talking about. From the countless nights of laughing like crazy on the subway, to the endless hours at 노래방, even to all the times we went out to eat (whether at a BBQ place or the vegan cafe or Sulbing), and to the times we all went shopping, we bonded like sisters. Over the time that I spent in Korea, I became so close to these people . . . even closer to them than the friends I had back home. The last few days were pretty sad because we all knew it would be awhile before we saw each other again. We all agreed that once we are able, we will all meet in Korea again. There is also a certain person that I really didn’t hang out with a lot, but we did hang out the last couple of days. We keep in touch, and we too have agreed to meet in Korea again.
NSLI-Y was a life-changing experience for me. I learned some Korean, I made new bonds, and I finally found myself and who I really am. That summer of 2017 was one of the best summers that I have had in my entire life, and I will forever hold the experience close to my heart. Thanks to NSLI-Y, I have found that I have a passion for traveling, and I will make sure to keep going until I travel to at least 13 different countries.