I am running out of adjectives to describe the amazing experiences I had in South Korea – from visiting the Google Korea office to having the best green tea latte I’ve ever had at an isolated spot in Yeouido Park, enjoying a carefree day at an amusement park surrounded by all the flowers of spring to touring Seoul on foot and learning about Korea’s rich history, riding a tandem bike for the first time in Nami to revisiting a childhood inspiration in Petite France, walking along the streets of Seoul like a local and having my first sangria with two dear friends, learning about Korean makeup and skincare from my students who were very enthusiastic in sharing their knowledge to exploring the cosmetics shops in the busy streets of Myeongdong, an Emart in Yongin and the Jamsil underground shopping center, marveling at the height of the Lotte World Tower and walking along Seokchon Lake Park, driving along the streets of Seoul while singing along to Gummy’s You Are My Everything with my student – the list goes on and on. And don’t even get me started on the food! All the meals were special and delicious. The company and the conversations had over them only served to make the food more memorable and precious.
The few trips I have had abroad were made possible through the kindness of other people. This was no different. First, Mr. Jim and his family welcomed us into their homes and treated us like family. I will never forget the warmth and generosity that they showed us all throughout the trip. Ms. Jina took care of us like we were her own children. They were our bosses but they acted more like our parents. We were their employees but we felt loved and cared for like their own family members. I was also very grateful to Ms. Jina’s mom who prepared meals fit for a king every morning and repeatedly said ‘많이 드세요.’ I sure didn’t mind eating a lot and I even asked for second servings because the food she prepared was always amazing. If there is one regret that I have, it was not getting a picture taken with her, but in my heart, there will always be an image of the warm and inviting grandmother who made us feel at home in a distant land.
For the rest of my life, I will also cherish the meetings I had with my students. Despite meeting online only from day to day and the hundreds of miles between us, I have already felt how sincere, generous and loving they are. I feel privileged to know such genuine people. Meeting them in person magnified that feeling a thousand times.
I also got the chance to meet the people who work at the Jim English Korea office. Like our boss, their passion and commitment for their work were apparent. Even if it was our first time to meet, I felt like we were sisters with a father and mother who raised us guided by the same love and principles.
I would never have made it to Korea in the first place without Ms. Grace’s help and the Philippine office’s assistance to us teachers in preparing for the trip. They play an important role in bringing together the teachers in the Philippines, and our Jim English family in South Korea.
Before I went to South Korea, I didn’t know the first thing about skincare and cosmetics, but thanks to some of my students, I managed to learn about the complex but very effective Korean skincare routine and I got to try (and bring home!) some of the best cosmetics and skincare products in the world.
I also realized how important daily English conversation classes are for students. I have been teaching Koreans for more than ten years, and sometimes, I wonder what drives my students to study every day even if it means waking up so early in the morning or finding some time in their busy daily schedule to talk to me. I know some Korean survival phrases and useful vocabulary because years ago, just before I got married, I tried to learn how to read and speak Hangeul. Amazingly, they all came back to me whenever the situation asked for it. Because of that, I could use a few Korean phrases while my husband and I were touring the city and I didn’t have to use too much English. That was it, I realized. If I knew how to speak Korean and the people I interact with are Korean, there was no need to speak English.
When I could not express something in Korean, I had to adjust the level of my English. For example in Namdaemun, when we were trying to find sunflower seeds coated in chocolate, I had to use the simplest/shortest word for what I was looking for and when that failed, I had to resort to body language (I pointed to the sunflower seeds and said ‘with chocolate’ while making a wrapping gesture with my hands and I had to do this several times with different store owners). That made me realize that the quality of a person’s (a foreigner’s or a student’s) English output in Korea is also dependent on the English skills of the person one is communicating with. This is why students get up early in the morning, stay up late at night, try to find thirty minutes in their toxic and busy day to squeeze in an English class, and show up for the class every single day. They need someone to communicate with in English. They need someone competent to do that with, so that they will be motivated to step up their game and keep up with their English conversation partner.
The Most Memorable Thing
Mr. Jim, if you are reading this, you must remember asking what for me was the most memorable thing about this trip.
Let me share my answer here. We were on our way back to Seoul from Gapyeong in the car when you asked me that question. I said it was really hard for me to choose a single memorable experience, but if I could pick only one (and it’s not even just ‘one’ memory… it’s a collection of unforgettable instances of kindness and love), it was this: spending quality time with you and Ms. Jina.
It was that and a few other things.
It was also the fortuities, the lucky breaks that we had all throughout the trip, like how we spotted the presidential convoy after we got off the Namsan Oreumi elevator and how ‘uncrowded’ all the usual tourist spots were. It was getting to see the Hyangwonjeong Pavilion just a few days before it was scheduled to be closed off from the public, for renovations in the next few years.
It was also a speech by a well-loved man that moved people to tears, and it was a song that sparked patriotism and pride in the hearts of people. It was these two enjoyed in a silent car and the serene view of the lake and the countryside.
It was also the seemingly mundane things like the early morning walk to a café and the trip to the supermarket for cabbage and barley malt tea. It was the cooler that contained the chilled cabbages and the jug of freshly made barley malt tea prepared with much consideration and effort, every day. Few people will be able to guess why this was so important to me and why I was so grateful for them.
It was the precious little things that I could not take a picture of like the constant and patient waiting, and the short, meaningful conversations while waiting in line or waiting ‘til it was time. And finally, it was fighting back tears while walking towards the entrance of Giheung station and looking back one last time to wave goodbye to a man I have had the privilege to get to know better, and respect and admire more because of this trip.