[OP-ED] A Foreigner in South Korea: Experience of a Mexican-American: Part 1

Yubania Salcedo , Jan. 27, 2019, 12:08 p.m.

I sit here and laugh, it’s a bit funny as I would not imagine my life as it is now. What started off as a mere curiosity soon became an infatuation of a new language, a new culture, and a new lifestyle. I was attracted to a language that I was not able to understand. What was it? Was it the eye-appealing Korean actors that I so often saw on the Korean dramas? Was it Go Jun Pyo from ‘Boys Over Flowers’ that opened a new door into my life? Actually, yes! I was introduced to ‘Boys Over Flowers’ by an ex-boyfriend’s cousin. She was really into Korean dramas and K-pop and made me watch the T.V. series with her. I was skeptical at first. I honestly thought I looked funny as I sat there watching something that I could not understand. As the series progressed I was lured more and more into a new world. It felt like a new world to me. Not only was I watching Korean dramas of all kinds but I was now listening to Korean music. Next thing you know, I sat in Korean classes learning the language; dreaming of the day I’d get to visit South Korea. One day I heard a friend saying that she bought her plane ticket to Korea and so I mustered up the courage and decided to join her. I bought my plane ticket and booked my staying before I told my family. I come from a Mexican background. With that being said, I decided to ask for forgiveness rather than permission to go to Korea. I know my mother would not have allowed me to go knowing I will be across the globe. I can picture my mother scolding me, “no no no estas loca ( no no no you’re crazy).” My mother thought I was crazy for being interested in another language. When I first began learning Korean she would  constantly make fun of me because she couldn’t comprehend how I would sit and watch something that was nowhere near English or Spanish. As months passed she was now getting upset because I watched an episode of ‘Cheongdam-dong Alice’ without her while she was at work. Now my mother speaks solely Spanish so she relied on my translations of Korean to English to Spanish. My sisters were a bit more open to my interests in Korean. From time to time they’d make some playful remarks but now they praise my trilingualism and boast about me whenever they can. It feels pretty good I would say. I even managed to bring one of my sisters to the ‘other side’; the Kpop world.

I think because my sister began listening to Kpop and watching Korean dramas, we bonded more. We have gone to so many Kpop concerts together. Moments that I will forever cherish and remember, like the time G-Dragon’s sweaty and baby powder smelling towel landed on my face only to be snatched by my sister. My sister is in fact one of the biggest G-Dragon fans. He is like her ultimate bias so I was very content that she was able to have something that belonged to him. I actually think it’s funny that she transformed. My ‘rocker’ sister now belonged to the Kpop world. I now see her wishing that her boyfriend can be like Korean actors from K-dramas; expecting him to grab her wrist and drag her with him and or give her a piggy-back ride home. But that’s a whole other story about Korean dramas and love expectations.

Moving along, the days went by faster than the speed of light. It was July and I was very excited and yet a bit uneasy. I was honestly a nervewreck. I was so busy with making sure I had everything ready for my trip. The day before my trip my good friend Jennifer called me and asked me if I wanted to go with her to a GOT7 concert at the Nokia. She had a spare ticket and did not want it to go to waste. I went knowing that I had to wake up early morning to head to the airport. The concert was overall amazing.

The most exciting day came and I had to wake up at 3 in the morning to head to LAX (Los Angeles Airport). My big sister was going to drop me off and tell me what to do. I was going to meet up my friend and her sister at the airport. When I was about to leave, my mother woke up and blessed me. It was a bittersweet moment. My mother is not the affectionate type but at the given moment it felt really good having her bendicion (blessing). She hugged me and told me to take good care of myself. At that point I was bawling my eyes out. I’m not the sensitive type either but I think it’s frantic knowing that you’ll be so far away from home and the thought of not seeing my family for a month was dreadful to me. My mother herself was flying out to Mexico that same day because my grandmother was ill. So I couldn’t really be all that happy knowing that my grandmother was really sick but my mother told me that I couldn’t let this interfere with my trip since I had anticipated this trip ever since.

My sister dropped me off at the Hawaiian airlines terminal. She helped me print out my ticket and bagging stickers. My friends and I were flying to Hawaii where we would take another flight to Korea. Hawaii is indeed a beautiful place, well, from the looks of only seeing it from the airport. We waited a couple of hours at the Hawaiian airport before boarding the plane. I remember traveling around the airport trying to walk my eggs. Yes, Pokemon Go had just been released so I was so into the game being an avid Pokemon fan. My friend and I were literally walking throughout the airport trying to obtain more Pokeballs and berries. Soon after we were sitting and talking about how we are not allowed to say certain phrases in certain places because it can cause an uproar. With that being said I yelled, “FIRE” and then quickly mused it into BTS’  ‘Fire’ song. It was nonetheless, fun as we both chanted the chorus.

The time came to board the plane to Korea. I had so many emotions. I was nervous since I knew it was a long flight and I wasn’t going to sit next to my friends since I had bought my ticket separate from theirs. Although we were on the same flight, I couldn’t help but feel my anxiety kick in. I got a window seat but I didn’t want to see to avoid getting more nervous. I sat next to an old Korean lady, a halmoni, I’d say. From that point onwards, I was in a different environment I was not accustomed to. I’m Mexican-American. Most Americans have a wider space proximity than other cultures. I knew that instant that I was no longer at home but in a different culture setting with different customs than mine. Why is this significant? Well, this sweet old halmoni was very close to me. Despite the fact that we were hurled in a small tight space, halmoni was sleeping on my shoulder, cuddling me. Hawaiian Airlines really feed their passengers. They kept offering meals after meals. Unfortunately, I did not eat anything on the plane because my stomach is a bit on the sensitive side, if you know what I mean…. Anyway, this halmoni was really concerned on why I wasn’t eating. She would touch my stomach and ask me, “wae an muguh?”, meaning “why aren’t you eating?” I felt a bit at ease knowing that this halmoni was really welcoming and sweet to me. Before going to Korea I was concerned myself whether I was going to be accepted or feel like an outkast. But this halmoni was different. She would constantly ask me to help her navigate her T.V.

Arriving to Incheon Airport, I felt a rush of emotions. I was actually at a place I’ve longed to be. I was actually content knowing I was breathing the same air that my ultimate bias, Kim Sunggyu was breathing. As silly as it sounds. Finding our way around the airport was quite difficult, but we managed. My friend’s friend was waiting for us outside as she was going to take us to our apartment we had rented through airbnb. When we met Ariel we were extremely tired. I was extremely hungry and sleepy. I felt like I had a day taken away from me due to the different time zone. We bought our ‘T-money’ which is the same thing as our ‘Tap card’ that we use here for transportation. We took the subway to get to our destination which was in Gangnam. The subway system is very difficult to navigate. It’s very confusing. As soon as we entered the subway an elder Korean man looked at me and told me, “Welcome to Korea.” It was very funny and nice. Once we reached Gangnam we noticed that it was raining yet it was so hot and humid outside. We arrived late at night. We decided to go to my friend’s apartment first and then to mine to leave our luggage. Let me tell you, it is very hard to have 50llbs of luggage and carry on bags while being in Korea. Korea has very steep hills.

To be continued……

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