Graham is an alum of the 2023 Korean Summer Program in Jeonju, South Korea from Fort Thomas, Kentucky. During his time abroad he learned a lot about language and culture through classroom learning and everyday life.
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about going abroad for a summer immersion experience likely isn't being isolated with host parents and siblings for five days. Yet, this was my experience during my last week in Jeonju, South Korea, because we all had Coronavirus. What felt at first like a terrible ending to a wonderful time abroad, actually turned out to be a great life lesson.
To back up a little, my host family and I went on a trip to Gyeongju for a weekend away together. We went to 첨성대 (Cheomseongdae: A historical observatory tower), 석굴암 (Seokguram: A part of the Bulguksa temple), and 경주월드 (Gyeongju World: A theme park next to our hotel). It was very enjoyable getting to experience another city in Korea and seeing the amazing sites Gyeongju had to offer.
During this trip, my host brother started to feel tired and sick. So, we left early the next morning to return to my homestay in Jeonju. After we arrived, while I was still unpacking, my host parents came to tell me that my host brother tested positive for Coronavirus. To reduce the risk of catching the virus, I repacked my bag and was moved to a hotel near the local high school where I attended my NSLI-Y Korean classes. Unfortunately, the next morning when I woke up in the hotel my whole body was aching. I knew I had gotten the Coronavirus. I was taken to the hospital to get a test which confirmed I was positive. Thankfully I was given medicines that would alleviate symptoms as well as speed up my recovery. Instead of remaining in the hotel alone, I was told I could self-quarantine in my host house for the next five days. While my positive test meant I didn’t have to remain in a hotel room alone, it also meant I would have only one remaining day of the program to see my friends again, after quarantining.
The news of missing the last week of my time in Korea was hard to hear. I definitely had a lot of mixed emotions and many tears. However, my teachers, tutors, host family, friends, resident director, and even the local photographer who worked with our NSLI-Y group made the experience so much better than I could have ever imagined. Right away, my teachers worked out Zoom meetings so that I could stay caught up with the Korean lessons, and one teacher even called me in the evenings to see how I was doing, which not only helped me emotionally, it was a great way to practice conversing in Korean. My tutors, resident director, and the group photographer sent me messages regularly to make sure I was doing all right and healing well. One tutor even brought gifts to my host house since I couldn't receive them on the last day of school. My host mom provided me with snacks and made sure I was hydrated at all times to ensure my recovery went smoothly. I am most grateful for my friends, who were there for me in so many ways. They would video call with me during break times at school, make videos and send them to me, and check in often to see how I was doing. They helped me still feel connected and a part of things. Meeting them and getting to know them has forever changed my life and definitely made my NSLI-Y experience something I will always remember and treasure.
Overall, getting Coronavirus in Korea wasn't as bad as it may seem. It certainly was not fun nor was it the way I would have wanted my trip to end, but it showed me I am able to handle a very difficult experience and not allow it to ruin the positives. NSLI-Y was so much more than just my time in quarantine. I am so grateful for all the wonderful things I learned, getting to go to school, the places I got to visit, the people I got to meet, and especially the friends I made. And, on my last day in Korea, quarantine-free, I spent the most amazing time sightseeing with them!