In partnership with Reach the World (RTW), the Fulbright U.S. Student Program is publishing a series of articles written by Fulbright English Teaching Assistants participating in Reach the World’s Traveler correspondents program, which through its interactive website, enriches the curriculum of elementary and secondary classrooms (primarily located in New York City but also nationwide) by connecting them to the experiences of volunteer Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) and other world travelers who are currently studying and living abroad.
When I think about where I come from, I think about the diverse neighborhood I grew up in, the different types of ethnic cuisines I could try, and the ‘corn man’ ringing his bell, so my sisters and I could eat some delicious Mexican-style cucumbers! Although the current neighborhood I live in South Korea as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant is not as diverse as my hometown, Chicago, I still feel at home because of my homestay family’s open arms.
Living away from home for a long time is like eating pancakes every morning for three weeks without syrup. It is not easy. It also means that you do not get to hang out with your close friends, eat certain foods that you are used to, or, perhaps, speak the language you are most comfortable with. It is scary. But even this difficulty and fear can bring about growth and a better sense of awareness.
I remember the first time I walked into my homestay house in my new neighborhood. Just my homestay mother was there with me at the time. After I put away my luggage in my new room, she asked me what I would like to eat. I felt pretty nervous, like a little puppy with its tail between its legs. I thought to myself, ‘This is going to be a challenge. I will have to speak only in Korean because my host family does not know English fluently. I will have to respect my new host family’s wishes, rules and expectations. I will not want them to feel worried about me. I will have to get used to not having pancakes and syrup for breakfast, but rather rice, soup and kimchi!’
After taking a deep breath, I remembered what I had learned back home from my parents, friends and mentors about respect and what to expect while living in a different country for a long time. ‘Everything will be okay, Corey. Your time here will be different, and that’s okay,’ I told myself. After replying that I would like some kimchi bokkeumbab (kimchi fried rice), a big and crooked smile snuck onto my face. Yes, everything was going to be okay.
My mother came to America from Jamaica when she was 20 years old. She came without her mom. She came without her friends. She was scared, but also excited. She had doubts, but she was also determined to succeed and become someone great, so that she could help her family back in Jamaica have better lives. Just like my mother, I came to Daegu scared and doubtful, but also excited and determined. I worked really hard to receive a scholarship and to become fluent in Korean. I am sure my host mom was just as nervous as I was my first day moving in, knowing that I came from a different country, family, culture and upbringing. But for both of us, the experience keeps getting better.
My host family’s open arms have enabled me to see what it is like living with a Korean family. It opened me to feel a sense of belonging, despite our cultural and language differences. It also opened me to hear how Korean families communicate with each other.
Certainly, there are times where I miss my dogs at home, my best friends and my goofy sisters, but I am grateful that I opened my heart to the family who opened their arms to me.
My mom back home has learned what it means to persevere in a different environment. She made new friends, families and was able to live the life she had always dreamed about having. It was because she took a deep breath and always remembered faithfully that through it all, everything was going be okay.
To all prospective Fulbright applicants, I challenge you to open yourself to someone who is different from you. I guarantee that you will learn so much from the experience about others and about yourself!