After 11 months living with my homestay family, we've grown quite close to each other. I feel that in many ways, the role of "host son" and "son" has been blurred. My temporary family member status has not stopped them from fully adopting me, and I couldn't be more grateful.
Below are a few short snippets that highlight some enlightening aspects of my experience with the Chang Family.
My host dad and I have developed a particularly strong relationship over the past year. Our relationship has flourished for a variety of reasons. Not only does he speak impeccible English, but Chang Jin Ho is also a Renaissance Man. At the ripe old age of 35, he has served as a great older brother to me, offering invaluable advice about a variety of issues.
Every now and then, when my host mom and sister have gone off to sleep, my host dad calls me out into the living room to chat over beer and snacks. I particularly look forward to this "male bonding time" between (host) father and (host) son, especially since these conversations prove to be quite entertaining. Usually we drink alcohol, watch Ultimate Fighting Championship together, and chat about everything from politics to the latest UFC Pay Per View Event. But this last time, the conversation started a little differently than normal:
"Joshie," my host dad said pensively, as he took a swig of his beer.
"You know, I am very good at many things in life: When I was soldier in the army, I was the best with gun. I was very accurate. When I studied Englishy, I studied very hard. I speak English very well. I traveled all over the world: I lived in Canada, went to Germany and Italy and Hungary, and lived in Israel. I am also very good athlete: I can play soccer very well, and although I am old, I still run fast. But there is one thing I am very bad at."
Not one for humility, my host dad is, to be fair, a very talented individual. He is still a tremendous athlete. For little formal training with the language, he speaks impeccable English. He is informed on current events. And he's a very dedicated family man. But alas, no man is perfect.
Staring pensively into his empty glass, he said, "one thing I am very bad at, Joshie."
I sat there, bracing myself for something serious. We've talked about a number of heavy issues before, such as coming of age, marriage, and children. But little did I know the severity of his problem.
"Woman. I do not understand woman."
Although we come from different countries, speak different languages, and practice different customs, I am always amazed at the minute aspects of daily life that weave the common thread of humanity through us all. I've reached this ephiphany a few times this year, when piercing moments of clarity shed light on the human existance. And they always seem to come at the strangest of times, in the strangest of ways.
Instead of offering advice, I pondered the significance of the moment. For some people, intercultural understanding happens very overtly- a major breakthrough in communication, or a unspoken noble act that is acknowledged by all. Maybe they joined a Taekwondo class, or tutored North Korean refugees. For me, at that very moment, I learned a supreme lesson-
The old addage really is true everywhere in the world: "You can't live with them, but you can't live without them."
The scene: A typical evening at the Chang Residence. My host mom just put my little sister to sleep, and I am putzing around in my room, doing nothing productive.
Around 8:30pm that night, as I was fiddling around on my guitar, my host mom bolted into the house as if being chased by the Devil himself.
"FIRE!! FIRE!!!" She exclaimed.
I immediately dropped what I was doing and rushed outside. As I turned the corner outside of our house, I discovered a menacing conflagration of epic proportions. The once unassuming field behind our house was ablaze in a fiery dance of flames that would make a pyromaniac jealous. As smoke bellowed towards my living room window, I envisioned the charred remains of my most prized possessions among the rubble of my homestay. What would I do if my house burned down? Where would I live? What would I do? How the heck did I not notice this impending doom creeping towards my bedroom window?What about my Mac? It's still under warranty, right? If I could only save one thing, what would it be? My Ipod or my- Errrrrr, maybe I should do something about this?
Like any good host son, I immediately jumped into action. Along with the other middle-aged men in the neighborhood who came out to help, we formed a relay line to bucket sand and water on the fire. 10 minutes later, the blaze was extinguished, and the day was saved.
Talk about being a Cultural Ambassador, right? Other Fulbrighters may have formed meaningful reationships through serving their community, or participating in local customs, but I SAVED my homestay from a blazing inferno!
Little did I know, the real heat would start when my host dad got home. After investigating the scene, he wrote off the event as nothing more than a gross over-reaction on the part of my host mom. As she explained every second of the terrifying ordeal to my host dad, he casually perused the newspaper.
"Thats nice, honey." He mumbled, unperturbed by the raging conflagration that struck mere hours earlier.
And with each disinterested nod, more fuel was added to the fire. As the old saying goes, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."
That night, after my host mom and sister went off to sleep, my host dad called me into the living room to chat over beer and snacks.
"Joshie," my host dad said pensively, as he took a swig of his beer. "one thing I am very bad at..."
Until next time...