Grace is from Ogden, Utah and participated in the Virtual Korean program in 2021, and Korean Summer in 2023. She is currently the student body president at her school, an education editor at the Institute for Youth and Policy, and a civil service fellow at Rhizome.
I held my battered shoes and admired the crisp white laces. Korea was in the middle of Jangma or Monsoon season, and I often came home from school with soaked shoes. While I tried to keep my shoes white, the laces were slowly becoming more and more of a creamy brown. While I slept, my house mom cleaned and replaced my laces. I called my host parents, imo and samcheon, aunt and uncle. They made me feel like a real member of their family, and not just a stranger living in their house.
Some of the best Korean food I had was at their dinner table. I loved dakjuk, the heat on my face from the deep bowl even during the hot Korean summer, and the smell of chicken and rice. Eating at Korean barbeque restaurants, my imo and samcheon would load up my bowl of rice with meat. Every morning I woke up to a bowl of hot tomatoes, scrambled eggs, and strawberry yogurt.
At night, we’d watch a reality dating show called Na Nun Solo and eat watermelon. I sat at their dining table as they carefully examined my homework and corrected my mistakes. They liked to see my test results after every test and cheered me on even when I did poorly.
The beauty of host families is that they are all different. Everyone has a totally unique experience. I can’t guarantee that everyone will have the most amazing host family experience ever, but I can vouch for the practice of living with a host family. Living with a host family will enable you to interact directly with the culture, food, and language while nurturing lifelong relationships.
I still, weeks after coming home, feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my host family. They truly made a place that was so new to me feel like a home away from home.