Friday morning (08/12/16) was the fated day… our NSLI-Y Korea Summer Graduation Ceremony. I woke up in the morning feeling something I have never felt before. I sat up in bed and just took in the quietness of the house. There was no clatter coming from the kitchen signifying that food was being made and no sounds of traffic outside my bedroom window. I woke up just a few minutes before my alarm and so I woke up naturally and not forced. I sat in my bed and just felt very aware of my surroundings. I slowly realized that this would be the last time I would wake up in this bed and this room for the summer. I realized that in two short days I would be in my hometown starting my junior year of high school. I didn’t specifically feel sad at this point in time, I just felt connected to everything around me… probably as a distraction from the sadness I would be feeling later in the day… and even later this very morning.
My host mom made me breakfast as usual. She served me a nice plate of eggs, toast, Korean peaches, and a glass of milk. She also took this time to hand me some presents that she had picked out for me as well as a letter she had written to me. We talked for awhile and I couldn’t help but get teary eyed. She started panicking and handed me some tissues trying to make me calm down. Her eyes started getting watery and she excused herself to get ready for the day but I could hear her sniffling in her room. I finished my breakfast quietly with my host dad in the living room. We started talking and had a very heartfelt conversation – in English. My host dad never used English, and I didn’t mind since I was here to learn Korean. But I knew it was because he was embarrassed by his skill level. At that moment, however, the feeling that would usually keep him from speaking English with me had disappeared. He first started to talk about how much I have improved being here with them and how much he really enjoyed having me stay with them. But then he started talking to me about something I never imagined would come out of his mouth. He told me how proud he was of me. He said that he was always rooting me on when he saw me at my desk, studying, till late in the night. He told me that he knew I would do amazing things because I proved to be such a hard worker and never gave up. Hearing those things coming from a man who welcomed me into his home for 6 weeks, could not have made me tear up any more than I did at that moment. He kept laughing throughout this exchange and told me that he was sorry he could not stay at the graduation the entire time since he had to work. He told me that if he didn’t have the opportunity to say goodbye to me at the graduation, that he wanted me to remember him saying this,
Live for you, not others. It is Important.
That morning, when I was making my way to the subway station, I noticed something new. A fence.
And you are probably asking yourself “A fence? What is the big deal about a fence? And why did you take a picture of a metal fence?” Well, it isn’t really a big deal or anything. Every morning, when I would cross the intersection, I did what all the other Koreans did– I jaywalked. Which isn’t exactly allowed, but none of the Koreans would walk in between the lines, they all jaywalked at the corner since it saved time. But today, that was not an option for me as the fence prevented jaywalking. The fence made it so you HAD to walk on the lines. It just made me realize that Korea is always changing. I know I was looking to deep into this whole occurrence but this made me more comfortable for some reason. I realized that change isn’t always a bad thing, and though I knew this already before, this situation comforted me after feeling very emotional towards the goodbyes that would occur that day. I know it sounds ridiculous but it got me through the morning ride to the university.
The ceremony was a lot of fun surprisingly. My host family came and I felt so happy seeing them in the back watching me. My supporter Sujin also came and I had no idea that she was going to be attending at all. They both acted like my mom by calling my name when I went on stage and taking photos of me. One of the best parts of the ceremony was when our university was awarding a student from every class a “most improved/exceptional achievement” certificate. We had 4 Korean classes and so a student was chosen from every class. And to my surprise, I was awarded the certificate from my teachers. I was so shocked but also overjoyed to know that my teachers could see my immense improvement. My host mom and supporter both took photos of me, they were literally my moms.
The one on the left was taken by my supporter Sujin while the one on the right was taken by my host mom.
We then had all the culture clubs show off what they did over the summer. The fan dance group performed a really beautiful number. They all had on really long skirts and these huge fans. I have lots of shots from the dance as Casey was in it!
The taekwondo (태권도) cultural club also did a performance to show off all the new kicks the students learned their ability to break wooden boards. I was so deeply enthralled with the performance that I was not able to take any photos. I was having too much fun laughing and enjoying all their kicks and screams. The traditional music culture club also performed a short song that was really good as well. I couldn’t believe they only spent around 2 hours on it once a week and it sounded like that. I also did not get any pictures because our cooking culture club was going next so we had to wait in the wings until we could go. We just filmed a video with clips of what we did (we can’t exactly cook in front of the whole audience… though that would have been fun) as well as clips of some individuals explaining background information of the food that we made.
We also had the talent show portion of the ceremony where we had lots of acts from different individuals in the program. We had a fashion show of different Korean styles, lots of dances, some singing, and my class’ talent show performance.
Angie, Tess, and Vinzent danced to Pick Me by I.O.I (아이오아이) and they did so well. Everyone was jamming along in their seats and the dance moves were great!
The talent show was also super fun to watch. Casey acted as the host/narrator and a bunch of different students from all of the Korean classes sported different Korean fashion styles. They had categories such as Work & Play, Seoul Food, Cutesy/Girly, Hip Hop, Clothes that are geared towards foreigners, and couple outfits.
My class 나무반’s talent show performance was also super fun. Most of us were not good at singing whatsoever but we still had a great time singing along to our video and music. It took a lot of time for me to edit it but I was glad to see it being so worth it.
The rest of the graduation ceremony was spent taking group photos (of supporter groups, Korean classes, and host families) and obtaining all of our certificates of completion, Korean class grades, and photos from our photographer. The ceremony was also spent saying a lot of goodbyes. My host mom had to leave with my host brothers early because she had to go to work. Most families took the students back after the ceremony to finish the day together and have dinner but mine couldn’t. That made my goodbye so much harder and I cried a lot after we said it. While my host mom and brothers were leaving through the doors, Sujin comforted me and I still couldn’t stop crying. (Even when we were taking our class photos, I was all teary-eyed and Jodi had to comfort me.)
And that was my NSLI-Y Summer Graduation Ceremony. I will be making a separate post about the rest of the day as this post has become very very very long. This day was very emotional as it marked the ending of such an amazing summer. Even though that was the case, it was also a very happy day as it reminded me how much love I have received from so many new people as well as all the relationships I have formed. I will always have these amazing memories and I wouldn’t exchange them for anything in the world, even if they caused a few crying sessions. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed reading this post! 🙂 Do not forget to subscribe~
PS: Today, of last year, I received my NSLI-Y Korea Summer finalist notification. I want to congratulate everyone that was given a scholarship for this upcoming summer. And if you didn’t, please re-apply and give it another go! CLS is also an option if you will be entering university. Also, for the new finalists, I will be on iEARN’s Korea Summer Finalist Call as an alum to answer you or your parents’ questions! I will also be continuing making informational posts for supporter groups, my packing list, culture clubs, etc. Stay Tuned!
Also, if you care about programs such as NSLI-Y and want to keep them going for as long as possible, in order to give equal opportunities to citizens from all around the world, you might want to sign this petition regarding the new U.S. budget plan that could defund the Department of States ECE programs (such as NSLI-Y, CLS, CBYX, etc). Please take a few extra minutes out of your day to support this cause. The link will be linked here.
- Emma (엠마)