Growing up in Wisconsin, two things have become so familiar they seem almost inherent: church basement potlucks and polite friendliness. People all over the United States talk about “Midwest Nice” in that we lend a hand to friends and strangers alike in any situation at any given time.
I only say this because I want you to grasp my full meaning when I say that Korea offers me unprecedented kindness over and over again. Whilst here, I have picked up several hobbies, ultimate frisbee being the most prominent. This community of people is such an incredible compilation of hospitality, competition, spirit, and overall excellent human beings. It also fueled my passion for something while I was in need of finding a purpose last autumn. But, mostly it gave me the freedom to enjoy myself and other while playing a sport—to play for the love of the game as opposed to winning a title, championship, or record.
I took this newfound passion with me while my father came to visit. He and I dabbled a bit in tossing the disc on the beach. We waded up to our kneecaps (the deepest that Korean lifeguards allow people to swim in the ocean) and started to throw the disc to each other and my friend who joined us for the hike and swim. Out of nowhere, an ajeossi (uncle) clad in a wet suit and a full body life jacket caught the disc and threw it back to us. And, then there were four. So, we kept tossing back and forth, the ajeossi making gratuitous leaps into the ocean and coming up with a giant grin and clutching the disc. As we continued throwing, two little girls came closer to us to play. Another ajeossi lingered near the edge until I threw the disc to him and he greedily accepted it and joined our circle. We grew to such a number that I went to get my second disc.
By the end, we had two ajeossis, two little girls, three medium sized boys, a mother of one of the boys, and a couple around my age. Throughout this entire endeavor, I kept looking at this motley crew of humanity, and anticipation, joy, and excitement lit every face. We cobbled together conversations knowing that in this one fleeting moment, we felt the same emotions regardless of age, gender, or race. Afterward, my father asked me if I knew any of those people. I said, “No, but that was one of those Korea moments that encapsulates everything I need at this exact moment, in this exact place.”
It is in moments like this when I remember exactly how small my existence really is. I have been granted these 25 years, really just a blip on the time/space continuum. This was merely one hour in one day, in one year, in one decade, in one century. This did not change the course of history. This did not make earth shattering discoveries. But, it did create a community—however small, however strange—for a moment in time. People came together from all walks of life to have this shared experience. And, this is what I love about Korea. “Korea Nice” is joining in a game for the love of playing it. It is ajummas (aunts) holding my hand on the subway because I was alone. It is my halmonie (grandmother) downstairs who takes care of me when I need it. It is a community of foreigners who love and accept you wholly and truly.
Korea has given me so many opportunities to explore who I am. More importantly, it has opened up a host of phenomenal men and women who consistently encourage me to grow and be better, regardless of how brief our interaction. Parenthetically, it also has church basement potlucks, but they serve kimchijeon instead of green bean casserole. Sad panda.