I am home now. My family met me at the airport with a full greeting committee of hilarious and wonderful poster boards followed by a trip to a favorite Tex-Mex place for enchiladas and margaritas. Upon returning home, I crashed around 10, only to realize the ceiling fan was circulating too high at 3 AM. There are no ceiling fans in Korea, and for an entire year I lamented this fact, especially in the summer months. But now that I have one, it feels like it’s too much and wakes me up at night. So now, it’s 4 AM and I’m sitting at the kitchen table writing, and there are nectarines in the fruit bowl. Their scent floods the room, and it’s intoxicating. There’s also the sound of crickets. Recently, now that the weather has warmed up, I would sometimes hear people in the street below my apartment late at night, chattering away, drunken or nocturnal, and I’d allow the cadence of Korean to lull me to sleep. That is not here. Did you know crickets sing all night long? To me, they’re deafening.
Upon landing in DFW, I did something I haven’t done in nearly a year: pick up a conversation with a stranger while in line. I met so many great fellow travelers while in baggage claim, customs, security, at my terminal, in the seats behind me. For the past year, I haven’t been able to do any of that, at least on a relatable level that didn’t require lots of gesturing, which can be exhausting. I could simply converse without any major language barriers. And also, Americans are generally very smiley people, but genuinely so. We Americans take a lot of flack for that in the international community, but having been in the land of many smiles, and each one means something different, I feel confident in speaking on the sincerity of our smiles. But I think perhaps The American Smile may have developed from our years of major immigration. Language barriers are tough, and perhaps the smile softened that barrier and allowed our own culture to develop. I see only beautiful things about this if it’s true.
I remembered something my pastor said recently upon returning home from a trip to Texas: There’s too much land there. I scoffed at it then, but it was all I could think about on my flight from DFW to Austin. While I’m a far cry away from saying there’s too much land here, I feel overwhelmed with how much there is, which is how I felt about people, buildings, and neon lights in Korea at first. I now feel like I understand why the Native Americans wanted to live here, why Europe wanted to colonize here, and why the pioneers wanted to frontier here: The amount of land here is so vast.
In college, I took an American Literature class, and I remember we read primary documents of early settlers or conquistadors, and they described the vastness of the land as if it were sexy and endless. I never thought anything of it at the time, really. In my lens of hindsight, they seemed greedy to me. But now, I get it. There was just so much potential. It was so ripe for the taking. I don’t say this to justify their actions (the history of which I know I benefit from socially, educationally, physically, etc) but as a means of understanding where their hearts and minds were at the time. It’s funny, I always heard that when you travel, you learn so much about other cultures and people and how we all relate, and that’s true. But never did I think it would make me realize so much about my own culture and its’ history, tainted or otherwise beneficial.