This past weekend I had the opportunity to stay with a local family here in Seoul and experience Korean life in a new way. After a long week of classes, a 30-minute subway ride brought me to 구로구 (Guro District), located in the southwestern part of Seoul. I was warmly greeted at the subway station by my host family (which included another exchange student!) and spent a restful evening with them while enjoying my first home-cooked meal in nearly 2 months.
On Saturday, my host sisters all had plans, so my host parents were kind enough to take me out for the day. We traveled a little bit out of Seoul to Anyang, a small city in the Gyeonggi Province. There we did some light hiking to 삼막사 (Sammaksa Valley), where we visited a Buddhist Temple, and enjoyed a lunch of 파전 (scallion pancakes), 막걸리 (rice wine), 보쌈 (sliced pork belly) and 순두부지깨(soft tofu stew). Thanks to the recently bloomed cherry blossoms and the great weather, the day was incredibly beautiful and peaceful. We even stopped by the Anyang Art Park, which featured beautiful sculptures by Korean artists and a pavilion in which visitors could relax and read.
After our mini-excursion to Anyang, we returned to the Guro District, where we visited a traditional market and purchased bread, chicken, and vegetables to prepare that evening's dinner. Although my host parents and I spoke only in Korean, they explained everything to me with patience and kindness. While interacting with people outside of your native language can be scary, it is important to push yourself to communicate and practice for the sake of your own foreign language development. Being able to spend such precious time with my host parents brought much-needed healing before heading into a busy midterm season.
Unfortunately, after our long day of hiking and sight-seeing, I fell ill with a headache and stomach pains. Thankfully, my host family were incredibly accommodating and kind and took great care of me. It was in this moment that I felt what Koreans call 정 (jeong), or deep affection. My host parents bought me headache medication, made me rice porridge, and frequently checked on me to make sure that I was comfortable and resting well. Although I had just met them, my host family took care of me like I was one of their very own. In a time of sickness, I felt incredibly moved by my family's kindness, and will forever be grateful towards them. In my Korean Language and Society class, we recently discussed this concept of "jeong" and how Korean society has a deep tradition of being affectionate and taking good care of one's family, friends, and group cohorts. This weekend my family exemplified jeong, and although I am a foreigner in Korea and not a blood member of their family, I felt like I was a part of their group. I left my family's home on Sunday morning with a full stomach, a thankful heart, and a deeper understanding of what it means to a part of a Korean family.