I’m very grateful to have family living in Germany whom I was able to visit: my great-aunt (my grandma’s younger sister) and great-uncle and their daughter (my second cousin) and her baby who is a little over one-year old. It was a very heart-warming and filling time, and I am incredibly grateful to have had that opportunity. Although a home stay is meant to be a kind of home environment, I don’t think it is necessarily meant to compare to the degree of unwinding and comfort found in being home with family. This is no fault with the homestay, but I think for me there was an immutable difference in being in a stranger’s home. Although this person has generously opened their home for the purpose of hosting students, they are still a stranger with whom you have had no relationship prior; perhaps this is my own sensitivity, but I felt like I was intruding in someone’s home even though this person is a host and chose to have someone stay with them. It was a feeling I couldn’t help having which also generated a sense of an uneven or slightly tilted relationship. There was also this sense of needing a heightened awareness and consciousness of how I operated in the space of someone’s home that was different from the free uninhibited existence of being at home or with family. Although this was my first time visiting my great-aunt, there was this ease and instantaneous feeling of being at home that I hadn’t felt in a while. A home away from home.
It was quite the soul-filling experience to have a loved one cook for you, especially soul-nourishing comfort food. I hadn’t had kimchi since leaving home and it was very much savored. It happened to be my cousin’s birthday during the time I was there, so I got to celebrate her birthday with her which was special as I had never been with her on her birthday. My great-aunt also made the traditional seaweed soup that Koreans eat on their birthdays and it was a wonderful time to celebrate with family.
It was lovely to be able to spend time and talk with them too. I hadn’t seen them in around six years when my great-aunt and uncle (accompanied by my cousin) made their final trip to the States (they were getting too old to travel) to see my grandma. It was a bittersweet trip as it was their last time seeing each other face to face. I enjoyed being able to hear and tell funny stories about my grandpa and simply converse with them. My heart was full and happy from the days I got to spend in the company of family, especially family I hadn’t seen in a while.
I didn’t expect that it would be a little hard to leave. There was a sense of sadness at having to leave them. The sense of sadness felt out of place and like something I shouldn’t be feeling since I would be seeing them again after my semester ended in London, yet the feeling persisted. I also think that having had a taste and reminder of what home feels like made me more aware upon arriving back in London and waking up the next day in my room of how I was not at home and the differences between the two environments. I missed them and being with them, and the feelings lingered a bit after returning to London. I wanted the feelings to pass and to be able to look at my time with family in Germany with love and gratitude rather than mourning it. I wanted to be present and not mar my time in London mourning something I didn’t have to mourn. I have my time here in London. While it’s not home, it is temporary, and I will be seeing my family in Germany soon and will be home soon too. There are seasons to everything, and you have to go with them. Having moved past these feelings, I also felt that the experience of the homestay has helped me learn to be comfortable in environments that are not necessarily comfortable. I also had to learn to get over my notion of being an intruder and needing to make up or “re-balance” the tilt in the relationship between myself and my host. I think this experience has also made me appreciate home more and homes that are not technically my “home” but feel like home. It is very special to be able to feel such comfort and peaceful ease.