Several Clintonians are working to educate the community about the international students from Confucius International Education Group, who will be arriving this fall. On Saturdays, a column will appear in this space, written by people who are involved in this project and/or have experienced various cultures, languages, values and beliefs. This is a very exciting time for Clinton and together we can make sure all students and their families feel welcome. Diversity makes life richer for all of us!
On Aug. 23, 2009, I boarded a flight to Seoul, South Korea, to spend what I thought would be one year teaching English to middle-schoolers. I had no idea at the time that Korea would become my home for the next six years and would be where I would make lifelong friends and meet my future husband, Simon.
I can say, quite honestly, that when I first moved to Korea, I knew very little about the country. I had never heard of kimchi or soju before, I didn’t know much about Confucianism, and I couldn’t speak Korean or read Hangul, the Korean alphabet. I went to Korea on a complete leap of faith that, thankfully, became one of the best experiences of my life largely due to the genuine kindness and generosity I encountered throughout my time there.
It is no small thing to be in a place where you can’t communicate easily with other people. It’s then that you notice all the simple things you took for granted back home, like going to the grocery store, opening a bank account, or getting cold medicine from the pharmacy. It’s also in those moments that you learn how powerful an act of kindness can be and how deeply that can influence your perception of a place.
On countless occasions during my time in Korea, I was surprised by the generosity and patience that was shown to me. If I looked lost, people would take the time to stop and help me get to where I needed to be even if they couldn’t speak English. My co-workers went out of their way make me feel welcome and appreciated and would help me with everything from buying a vacuum cleaner to making sure that I could mail Christmas presents back home. I even remember a bus driver coming all the way out to Yongin-si, a small city about 40 minutes outside of Seoul and where I lived for my last four years there, to hand deliver my ebook reader to me after I had left it on the bus the day before.
I learned a lot from my time spent living in Korea. I learned a new language and a new culture, I learned about K-Pop and how to love kimchi, and I learned about new traditions and ways of thinking about the world. But, what has influenced me the most is having learned the impact a simple act of kindness can make in someone’s life and what it means to look out for your neighbor, even if you come from different parts of the world. In the end, it’s through those acts of kindness that the world becomes a bit smaller, a lot brighter, and a better place to be.
Gabriella Torres is currently the Youth Services Librarian and co-assistant director at the Clinton Public Library.