The Stranger in our Midst

This is going to probably be a bit harder than we thought.

We picked up Hyeon Ju last night at 5:30 and it was clear within minutes that her command of spoken English is just north of minimal. In theory, Kristin and I were expecting to have a somewhat difficult time conversing with her, but weren't too concerned since we've both spent weeks in other countries where English wasn't common. We knew we'd have to speak slowly and use very basic words, and this definitely seems to help, but simple things such as expressing our wish for her to "make herself feel at home" was challenging. We'll get through it though, I'm sure, as she has a pocket electronic dictionary and I have a Korean phrasebook. I will say that she knows a lot more english than I ever knew of Spanish. Speaking of spanish, I was very proud of myself for not defaulting to, "hola" upon meeting her as I so often do when speaking to someone who I know is not a native English speaker. Yes, I even found myself telling the Hugarian waitresses in Budapest, "gracias" when they brought the food.

I'm an idiot, but I have good intentions.

But back to Hyeun Ju (whose name I will probably misspell a thousand times in this post)

She's reading a bilingual version of a recent Obama biography -- each page is both in Korean and English. That's a good start to getting on my good side.

Last night was a little stressful, no doubt moreso for her than us. Kristin about freaked her out upon our initial meeting when she went to give her a big, American-style, welcome hug. Um, yeah, I forgot to tell her not to do that. The girl was totally confused as to why this total stranger was throwing her arms around her. She braced herself and hugged back, but was definitely a bit weirded out by it.

Hyeon Ju immediately took a liking to our dogs, who followed her around nonstop in return. I think they're going to be excellent ambassadors and help entertain her. I already know Annana in particular is going to miss her when she leaves.

After sitting in a bus for 6 hours, then a plane for 10, I was expecting her to want to get right to bed, and for a while we thought she did. She didn't want dinner and made that clear, but did eventually come downstairs sit and have some water while we ate. She's a very nice young girl and showed us photos of her family on her camera. I offered to print them for her to hang up in her bedroom, but the camera she has doesn't have a memory card. Internal memory, perhaps? I didn't force the issue last night, but I'm hoping she has some sort of USB cord or something -- the plug input on the side of the camera wasn't anything that I've seen before.

After dinner I showed her a map of the world and showed her where we were, where Kristin and I grew up, and she quickly seized on the size of the USA and wondered why we would live so far from family. The idea of flying back and forth once or twice a year is completely, well, foreign, to her.

It turns out her town of Gangjin is located at the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. Every city is known for something, and hers is pottery. She brought us a fabulous vase that I discovered by chance, thanks to Google Image Search, is from the Goryeo Celadon kiln. The kiln is a major draw for their town and they have a very large version of the exact same vase her parents had given us. The version she brought us -- a very fragile carry-on, no doubt -- is about 16" tall.

In a move that was either totally due to exhaustion or an example of her being wise beyond her years, she went to bed at 9pm and slept until 10:00 this morning and seems just about free of any jet-lag. So far. She was supposed to have gone to school at 8am this morning, but the schools are closed due to the flooding so she got to sleep in. She's out touring with the other students and the South Korean delegation today, then we meet her back at the Salish Lodge tonight for dinner. The mayor of Gangjin has hired a Korean catering company from Seattle to prepare an authentic Korean dinner tonight. I can't wait.

Speaking of food, we're going to take her to Uwajimaya next week to pick up any snacks or specific foods she's used to from home and see if she would be up for cooking dinner for us. I asked her last night what she usually eats for breakfast and she said, "meat wrap".

She had a bowl of Rice Krispies this morning and seemed to enjoy them, but I'm thinking of making her some breakfast burritos next week.

There's not a whole lot to say so far, since she's only been here for 20 hours or so, but she's very interested in everything around her. She seized upon the medal I have from the Leadville 100 that hangs on my lamp in my office and that quickly lead to me showing her photos from the mountain bike trips I've done and her, in exchange, showing me the photos of her bicycle on her camera.

When I was showing her the map of the world I have and pointing to places we've been, I asked her where she wants to travel to. Her answer? Everywhere.

This is going to work out just fine.

Finally, this morning, in perhaps a sign that these next 5 weeks are going to undoubtedly force us to look at our own way of living a little different, she was completely awestruck at the garage door opener. I expected her surprise at us having two cars, but I didn't foresee the wonder on her face when I hit the garage door button.

That was pretty cool.

And pretty eye-opening for me too.


Jackie said...

What a great entry and a great experience! I really admire you and Kristin and hope to have a similar opportunity when I have the means to host a student. I can't wait to learn from you what you learn from her!

The closest I've ever come to this sort of experience was the close relationship I formed with a Finnish exchange student in high school. He is now getting married this summer and I hope to attend the wedding--these bonds last forever.

ps. I also default to Italian no matter what language is spoken, and I did it on a German train once, even though many Germans speak perfect English! ;-)

Brad Gallaway said...

Hey, at least you default to Spanish... I just tend to speak louder and gesture a lot. ; )

Doug Walsh said...

I must confess that me "defaulting to Spanish" essentially means I can say hello, goodbye, good morning, very good, thank you very much, and then a lot of sentences starting with "where is".

Although, honestly, it's amazing how far you can get with "where is" and hand-gestures and pointing.

Maarten said...

Very cool, Doug. I bet you'll know more Korean than Spanish by the time she leaves.

Have to say I'm conflicted about the idea of taking her to Uwajimaya; it's a great strategy for putting her at ease (and kudos to you for that), but it also seems like it short-circuits a key part of the experience of immersion in a foreign culture. But then these days with email, video skype to folks back at home, or your home TV shows on the net for that matter, I guess it's a different exchange experience anyway. I don't doubt you'll make sure to expose HJ to venti almond mochas, corn dogs, jelly bellies, aplets and cotlets, garlic fries, eggplant parm, collard greens, chicken fried steak, and Cinnabons.