When I was six years old, I traveled the eighteen-hour flight to Seoul, South Korea. This was a country that I had never ventured to before, and that by itself was a good enough cause for excitement. Beyond that, I was about to enter a world unfamiliar to me, but extremely familiar to my mother; South Korea was my mother’s birthplace and the birthplace of so many relatives that I was yet to meet.
From the very moment I stepped off the plane and felt a hot, sticky rush of air erase the nervous goose-bumps on my arms, it seemed that loving pinches and suffocating hugs came from every direction. I might’ve been comfortable with this had I been in California, greeting relatives on my father’s side that I actually knew, but I recognized not a single face in this sea of dark hair and dark eyes that had suddenly been released upon my mother, my brother, and me. It seemed odd that these strangers could be my family—I thought the word applied to only the closest people in one’s life. Nevertheless, these people welcomed me into their homes and treated me as if they had known me my whole life. They fed me treats and spoiled me with presents, and, soon enough, I felt as comfortable with them as I did with my California family.
Beyond being endlessly pampered by my “new” family, I was also exposed to an entirely different way of life. Each night, the family would gather—no questions asked—and eat heartily and happily, cherishing each other’s company. Not just at the table, but always, the children paid the utmost respect to the mothers and fathers, and the mothers and fathers paid the utmost respect to the grandmother and grandfather. Every member of the group seemed to know their place, yet this did not keep them from expressing their love as a family. Living there, I witnessed a system of respect and love that both shocked and surprised me. I wondered why it was that each person’s life revolved around his or her family. Then my mom explained to me that it was simply their way of living, their culture, and thus could not be explained.
I may have returned to America after only thirty days, but I feel as though I brought a huge part of Korea back home with me. I have a newfound respect for the strength of their families, and strive to reflect the same traits that family members carry over there. I now know how important it is to be taught about one’s origin, no matter how far away it may be, and that it is crucial to learn from the members of one’s kin. I feel privileged that I was born into a home already immersed in two different cultures because I was able to learn something about myself that may never have otherwise been learned: I believe in family.
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