This summer I went to South Korea for 52 days with a small group of people that I had only known for about four days. There was no one in the country that I knew, and I had no idea what I would do there or where I would even live. On top of it all, I only knew about four or five words in Korean. Yet, there I was in the middle of Seoul after traveling a total of 15 hours by airplane.
The first couple weeks in Korea were a struggle for me, but not for the reasons one would think. Usually, it is the food or the cultural differences with which foreigners struggle. However, for me, the problem was my total lack of independence. It felt like I did not know anything. I could not use the transit system, I would get lost if I strayed off my block, and I could not even ask for help. Add that to the fact that I woke up to the same two faces and saw the same 40 people every day. I was done, or so I thought.
Even though I got tired of seeing them all the time, those same 40 people became the largest group of genuine friends that I have ever had. They all ranged in age, but they all had the same thing in common. They were all once way less fortunate than I, and to the point that I cannot even mention them personally without potentially causing the lives of them and their families to be in danger. I am not joking.
Though we have practically nothing in common, these people have been a great blessing to my life. I attempted to teach them English, and they in turn taught me not to take myself so seriously. More than once I found myself in ridiculous situations with at least one of them by my side. We browsed in stores we could not afford, ate food so spicy that it cleared out your sinuses, and we even climbed a mountain by accident. I even had the privilege of being the first African-American that most of them had ever seen, let alone befriended.
The biggest shock of the summer occurred when it was time for me to return to the states. The school I worked in threw a goodbye event for the group I came with, and some of the students gave speeches in English. By the time the program ended, one of my closer female students was bawling, which caused me to turn on the waterworks as well. I later found out that my partner and I were the first real friends that this student had ever had and that she had no idea how she was going to function without us. She even came to the airport and waited nine hours with me for my flight. Every now and then I get message from her and the others, and I get emotional each time I read one. It is reasons like these that there is a giant chunk of my heart left in Seoul. I am already planning my trip back.