Monday, January 30, 2017

My Homestay-Like Experience in Cheongju

We reach many times in our lives when we have to make a choice. To go left, or right, per-say. For me, one of those moments occurred as I landed at the Cheongju (청주) airport. As I opened my Kakao and prepared to send a message to my Airbnb, I had two options: send my message in English or in Korean.

My Korean is still basic at best and I am much stronger at reading and writing (especially when I can translate a word here or there). But living in an English community at my school, I rarely get the chance to challenge and practice my ability. So I constructed my messages and hit send, opening the door for further communications.

No regrets.

When I arrived, my host greeted me in Korean, but said she could explain everything in English if I'd prefer. I didn't correct her. While I didn't understand everything she said to the T, I got the meaning--bathroom over here, kitchen through the door, and so forth.

That evening, as I was filling my water in the kitchen, I met the Father with a couple of his friends. After hearing about my plans to go to Sangdang Sanseong Fortress (산당산성), he suggested we all go together. All of a sudden, plans are being made and it's no longer just me. The next day, we piled into a giant van and headed up into the mountains. Seven adults and three children; the language of the day was Korean.

Oh Boy.
The mountainous and snow-dotted view.
The day was cold, but the kind of cold that makes the air extra clear and the sun seem that much brighter. Really, it was great hiking weather and I was lucky to have good company. The family brought a couple toboggan-like objects and every time we found a slope covered in snow along the encircling remains of the castle wall, they were quick to take a slide.
View of Cheongju in the distance.
Everyone included me in their conversations and spoke slowly (or repeated when I had trouble). Until now, I've had a lot of one-on-one language exchange experiences. It's been frustrating at times when you need to maintain the conversation but you (or your partner) don't yet have the language skills to do so. In this situation, I was free to listen and follow along and I found that I could understand a lot more than I thought. There was a lot less pressure and I found I could add more at times, too.
The youngest three of my new friends.
After hiking came lunch and then we all drove back for tea and fruit. I was definitely exhausted by the end of the day, but I also had a lot of fun.

Another evening, again because of a random conversation in the kitchen, I was asked if I wanted to go up to "Pizza Hill" before I checked out the next day. (The name "Pizza Hill" is merely how the father referenced these round, stone smoke ovens that used to be used for signal fires and now look like they could make a good pizza). It was almost 9:30pm at this time. The conversation quickly shifted from, "Do you want to go early tomorrow morning? 6am? 7am?" to "Let's go in 10 minutes."

So once more a bunch of us piled into the van and headed up into the mountains. Due to a slippery road, we left the van behind and walked carefully up the slope. Although cold, it was definitely worth it to see the glittering city lights and the "pizza ovens." If only the clouds had cleared so that we could see the stars, too.
Silhouettes against the night sky!
Definitely one of my best experiences at an Airbnb and I hope that I can go back and visit these new friends again. By then I hope I can say more in Korean, too.

Love and Hugs.

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