Gabriela, from Boca Raton, Florida, is an alumna of the 2021 NSLI-Y Korean summer program.
In music, harmony is created when at least two musical chords combine and create one cohesive sound. Reflecting on my NSLI-Y experience in South Korea, I found harmony with my host family.
One night, my host family and I were in the car returning home from dinner. It wasn’t long until my host mother took out the portable karaoke microphone that she keeps in the car and handed it to me. I knew then that we were having one of our many car karaoke sessions. I remember I'd always get nervous about which song to even sing. Should I pick a song in English? In Korean? That night was different because my host mother had asked me to sing “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz (one of the most famous karaoke songs to sing in Korea). While sitting in the middle seat of the car, my designated spot in between my two host siblings, I began to sing.
Picking just one song to represent my NSLI-Y experience abroad would be an extremely difficult thing to do– especially when I think about my host family. While I can say that “I’m Yours” now holds a special place in my heart, it’s music, in general, that was fundamental in bringing me and my host family so close together.
This was just one car ride of many in which we had these karaoke sessions. When I look back on my experience in Korea, my mind returns to moments like my little host brother trying to sing a BTS song and asking me to help him with the lyrics. Moments as small and as sweet as these are truly cherished in my heart.
Though this is just karaoke’s impact on my connection with my host family. There’s more to it. One night, my host mother and I sat down to eat dinner and we shared similar information about our lives: we’ve both been involved in music and singing. I take part in my school’s choir and my host mother used to sing in her choir as well! Not only that, but I learned that her father is a traditional Korean singer. I even got to listen to a little bit of the singing and in return, I played a recording of my choir’s performance for her.
Defining moments of my exchange experience involved wonderful emotions brought out by the power of music. On the very last night of my program, I sat down at the dinner table and was greeted by my wonderful host family and their vibrant smiles. As a parting gift, my host parents gifted me my very own karaoke microphone! It was perfect. They also prepared a song for me in which my host mother played the ukulele while she and my host siblings sang a sweet little song.
말할수도 있어서, 들을수도 있어서 사랑할 수 있어서 정말 행복해요니가 있어 행복해 정말 행복해요
I am very happy that I am able to talk, listen, and love.I am happy that you are here, really happy.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry. It was truly beautiful and, of course, understanding the lyrics made it much more meaningful!
I confided in my host parents for help with learning Korean and navigating life while I turned to my host siblings to play, dance, laugh, and even do homework with. The bond my host family and I created will forever be cherished. We learned and celebrated so much together, and the connections we made through music made the experience inimitable. Nowadays, although we are apart, I keep my karaoke microphone in my car in hopes of sharing such a pleasant experience with others as well as reminiscing on my wonderful host family and NSLI-Y experience!
Having the opportunity to live with a host family while a part of the NSLI-Y program allows you to experience very intimate and cherished cross-cultural interactions and lessons. I’m so thankful that I could live this experience because not only did I create amazing relationships and memories with people in South Korea, I gained so much knowledge and understanding of the nuances of life and culture there as well. Ultimately, the musical connections I made in South Korea expanded my knowledge and appreciation for Korean culture, language, and family!