I have had many experiences with locals treating me with an abundance of kindness, whether it be assisting me with something without even asking, their mannerisms when I enter a store, or even just stopping to speak to me on the sidewalk. However, one specific encounter comes to my mind when I think of encounters with kind strangers. At my university in South Korea, Sogang University, the campus encroaches upon a small mountainous area, known as Nogosan. There is a small hiking trail going up the mountain which is accessible from the middle of campus. The hiking trail is extremely steep, but it is lined with the occasional bench and statue of one of the school’s founders.
I decided to try to film a video project on the lower part of the hiking trail, and as I was scoping out the opportune area to start filming, I came across an older Korean lady, she was most likely in her mid-50s. I smiled and began to walk past her to find a place to set up my equipment, but instead she said hello to me and asked if I spoke Korean. Unfortunately, my knowledge of Korean doesn’t reach farther than reading and ordering food off a menu, so I told her I couldn’t. Then, out of nowhere, she asked me if I would like to take a walk up the mountain trail. I was so surprised at the offer, and somewhat suspicious since I have always been told to fear strangers. I agreed to take the walk with her, pushing the negative thoughts out of my mind, and just took the chance.
We began to walk up the mountain trail, and she asked me questions about myself. These questions included basic things such as where I was from, why I am in Korea, how old I am, etc. Her English was limited, but she tried to make conversation with me as much as she could. We got to a decently high part of the hiking trail, where there was a small lookout with a bench. We decided to sit and she took out a piece of paper and asked me for a pen. She was having difficulties communicating, so she began to write words on the paper, and even told me that I am an open-minded person, which surprised me. She told me about her son who had recently graduated from Sogang and told me he was getting married next year. She told me about how in the 1980s she traveled to America and visited the Grand Canyon. After a little while, we decided to walk back down to the bottom of the trail since I needed to work on a project. Before she left, she made sure to show me a picture of her hanbok (Korean traditional dress) for her son’s wedding.
This experience was so surprising for me because of my fears of coming to an extremely homogeneous country. I never thought that I would receive such kindness in Korea, especially from the older generation that is not used to foreigners being in their country. I am really grateful for this small experience with a stranger who never shared her name with me.