A Journey To My Homeland This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

   This past July and August, I had the opportunity to take a trip that I've waited a lifetime to take , a journey to a place I'd left exactly 17 years before , a journey to my homeland, Korea. I went as a 4-H/Lex America delegate. I was the first 4-H'er nationwide to visit Korea. I also stayed in Tokyo, Japan for about one week.

The trip began on July 15, 1992, 17 years to the day that I flew into America, and 12 years to the day that my sister, Bekki arrived from Korea. My family usually celebrates my sister's and my "homecoming day," but I believe that this was the best homecoming present I ever received.

After a brief orientation in San Francisco, where I met 60 other 4-H'ers from various states who were staying in Japan for a month, I boarded a plane and arrived in Japan about 10 hours later. There, I met the 15 Lex America delegates, one of whom was also going to Korea. I stayed four days in Tokyo, with a very nice family. They were very curious about the English language, so I taught them English while they taught me Japanese. We also spoke a little bit of German, French, Spanish, Korean and Chinese. All of the host families belonged to a language group called Lex/Hippo groups, and they knew about 13 languages.

Japan is beautiful. Tokyo is like a shopping-mall city. The roads are all cobblestone, everything is neat, the streets are narrow and well lit, crime is very low , when I walked down the street at night, it felt like I was in a shopping mall. I never saw a poor part of Tokyo, and I've been told that I'd have to look very hard to find one, even though Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world.

I stayed in Seoul for 3 weeks with two different host families. When I flew into Korea and saw all the green mountains and white clouds, I had tears in my eyes because I had always been told that "someday I'd visit this magic, fairy-tale land I'd been born in, and finally that "someday" was here. One of the first things I noticed about Seoul was how American it seemed. ThoughsSeoul is not quite as nice a city as Tokyo, it is very much more American influenced, while I believe Tokyo is more European influenced.

The first family I stayed with lived, as most Seoul dwellers do, in an apartment. They were extremely kind. They brought me to a lot of Hippo meetings. The people at the meetings impressed me , I had 3 year olds introducing themselves in Korean, Japanese, and English. Everybody knew at least two languages, usually three or four. The Hippo clubs even have meetings called "Baby Field" where they bring infants and sing and dance to foreign songs so the baby can grow up in a multi-lingual environment. I also visited an enormous Presbyterian church , the largest in Seoul. They gave 7 services a day and had the sermon translated into English and Japanese.

My second family lived in the journalists' part of the Olympic Village. The Korean people are still very proud that they were chosen to have the Olympics in Seoul in 1988. They still have the flags up, and they have named highways, cigarettes, and numerous other things "88" to commemorate the Olympics. The Olympic Park is beautiful , an oasis in the middle of an enormous city. I also visited several palaces, shrines and museums. Seoul is so very Western, and then suddenly something pops up that is extremely Oriental, like a big Oriental gate in the middle of a five lane highway. I was able to see some traditional houses and dances when I visited the Korean Folk Village.

Shopping in Korea is excellent. There are several shopping districts where you are able to buy name-brand items for less than half the price in America, mostly because they are made in Korea. The clothes, leathers, and shoes are the best buys. For example, Reeboks and Nikes are about $30 or $40.

I loved Korea. Seoul is just a city, but the countryside is breathtaking. Everywhere are mountains, and it is so green ... I could have sat and stared for hours.

After I left Seoul, I returned to Tokyo for four days. However, when I arrived in Narita, the Japanese airport closest to Tokyo, there was no one there to pick me up! I was traveling alone, I had no yen, and knew about 10 words in Japanese. Plus, it was about 10 p.m., which meant my chances of getting hold of someone at the Tokyo office weren't good. Finally, though, I found someone who spoke English and could help me out. But I was freaked for a while.

In Tokyo, I did a little sightseeing, and then I was homeward bound, with a lot of pictures, a lot of memories, and a lot of new friends. I love both Japan and Korea, but I've decided that I'm glad I live in the U.S.A. n

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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