Welcome to America! I'll probably need to write a book if I tell you all my stories from the states. That’s how much I have to say, so just to tell you the beginning of my story. When I was 18, my mom told me one day, "Do you want to go to America?" and I said, "Sure" without any hesitation. After that I took some tests for an exchange student program and waited until a family in the states chose me to stay with them. I thought American people don't like those who study all day long so I stressed about my favorite hobby in the self-introduction paper being cheerleading and baton twirling. But nobody had chosen me by the end of last due date. Later I found out that many American students are familiar with doing club work but not everyone, so it took a while to find a family that did cheerleading club work. Anyway, after finding my host family, I had only three days to prepare to leave. I didn’t have much time to prepare or find information about Louisiana where I would stay. As a result, I missed my flight at the Dallas airport in Texas. I thought every airport was like Inchon Airport. But can you imagine? The Dallas airport is three times bigger than Inchon airport and there are several trains to take to go to other places. I took two different trains but couldn’t find my gate and because of my poor English, I didn’t even know how to ask. Then when I eventually arrived at the gate my flight had already left. I was so nervous and although I got first in English at a school, I couldn’t understand or say a word. I just used body language and soon a kind African-American person helped me to contact my host family.
I started my first day in America with a struggle.
That day my family brought me to shop at Wal-Mart. It was a big department store but very simple and no pretty interior design at all. Really I couldn’t find food like kim-chi or kim-bap. Only pizza, bread, pasta and super big size chips without nitrogen gas. And about my host family house; there were three horses and two pigs, six dogs, eight chickens and even rabbits in the back yard! Awesome! Everything was totally different from Korea. Especially I loved to drive on the road with endless green grass, looking up at the brilliant blue sky while listening to the radio talking. It made me so excited.
However at first, I couldn’t truly enjoy the beautiful and curious surroundings and culture because of the different life style and language. For example, I am a very lively person in Korea but there, they said I seemed like a very shy person. It was really shocking! Another thing was I couldn’t clearly distinguish English pronunciation so it was hard to communicate. Things like, when they asked for ‘water’, I gave them a ‘Quarter’. I made several mistakes with the host-mom because I misunderstood the language. Trying to be a person they like and understand English at the same time was stressful and my whole family in Korea told me to come back to Korea. However, I never stopped to change myself. Every morning I started with listening to English TV and I listened and spoke only English all day. At home, my host family helped my English improve. Even a little boy who was only five-years-old taught me the pronunciation following his father!
“Jenna, follow me, ‘school’”
“No! You have to say scho~~l”
At school, students and teachers were so kind and helped me a lot. They were really interested in me because Louisiana has a lot of country side so they said it was their first time to meet an Asian person. (They really loved my black straight hair … lol)
And then after six months, I could clearly communicate with them almost 90%.
All my friends were very surprised about it. Before coming back to Korea, they told me,
“Jenna! I’m so surprised! We can communicate now!
The day you just got here, I told you like, H-e-l-l-o?
But now you understand everything like us!”
I miss them a lot and really thank the family for giving me such a wonderful experience.
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Lee Na Kyung
Dept. of Korean language&literature