By Cayden S., 8th Grade
“Which Korea are we going to, North or South?”
“Is school easy there?”
“No.” My mother explained to me that students have to go to school for 11 hours a day and always need to study for tests, not having any free time.
“Where did you live in Korea?”
“My family lived in a condo.”
“What’s a condo?”
“It’s like an apartment, but you own it.”
“Did you ever live in a house?”
“No, the only houses in Korea are in the country.”
As a son of Korean immigrants, I had never experienced what true Korean culture was like. I was used to being indoors a lot of the time, playing video games in my room with the windows and blinds shut, only going outside to play soccer with my friends or to go to school. I left this kind of life when I boarded my plane to Seoul.
At the gate of the Denver Airport, I could see many people speaking Korean and sitting on the floor, playing on their phones, acting normal. But for me it felt very strange, seeing myself surrounded by all of these Korean people.
A 12 hour flight later, we got off of the plane. The air was very humid compared to Denver. It was already night time, and I was super tired. I thought it was going to be just like downtown where people only went for work and for a Rockies game. I was so wrong. Standing on my uncle’s balcony, I could immediately tell that things were different. Other than the tall skyscrapers, the city was littered with apartment buildings, which had small shops, narrows roads, and alleyways running in between like the mouth of a river. Even though it was 11:00 at night, I could still see kids playing on the streets. Once even, a little kid came up to me and started to talk to me, something that never happens in America.
After staying in Seoul for a couple of days, we took a train into another city. When we arrived at the apartment where my family was celebrating my grandma’s life, I could tell that it wasn’t a normal apartment that you would see in Colorado. At the front of building, we had to call our family and wait for them to come down and pick us up. As we entered the flat itself, I was surprised to see heavy wooden furniture with gold accents and a very long short table with a plethora of bowls lined up. However, the one that stuck the most out to me was the red octopus tentacle that was poking out, suction cups and all. It didn’t take me very long at all to run away to my older cousin’s room where I sat there and read comic books the whole time. It may have seemed very boring but it was very interesting to hear all the conversations that my relatives were having.
At the time, I knew very little Korean, but I was still able to decipher some of what they were saying. It mostly consisted of: “Don’t you think it’s stupid that Donald Trump became president in America? I mean honestly, do they really believe that he would be able to get Mexico to pay for a border wall?” and “I’m planning to buy a bottle of wine and ferment it for 10 years and drink it while watching football.” Meanwhile there’s always the conversation of “My child is going to Harvard medical when he grows up, I have it all planned.”
When I came home to my good old American suburbia, everything felt different. For the first time, I realized just how isolated I was. I was back to my familiar neighborhood where no one knew each other which made me miss the community and sense of closeness in Korea. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the solitude and privacy of American culture, but I also wish sometimes to be back in Korea where I can ride a train to go see all my family.