Chapter 6: Checking in with the Friendship Force

While my grandma was touring Seoul with her host family in that June of 1979, 400 other New Mexicans were doing the same, as part of a massive goodwill exchange trip organized by the Friendship Force.

While a Korean TV crew traveled to Albuquerque to document the Korean friendship ambassadors’ visit, a reporter from the Albuquerque Journal named Pat Kailer and her husband headed to Seoul with the American friendship ambassadors. From her first-hand account, it sounds like they, like my grandma, got along great with their host family:

We had just flown nearly halfway around the world. We had known our hosts less than two hours. We shared no common language. Yet we sat cross-legged on their apartment floor that first day drinking coffee, trying to understand one another, completely secure, at ease, at home.

Any reservations about our Friendship Force exchange with a South Korean family had been shed with our shoes — at the doorstep.

—Albuquerque Journal, July 2, 1979

Kailer also interviewed other American friendship ambassadors about their host families, communication blunders, and culinary adventures

They were taken in into the homes — mostly high-rise apartments — of a minister, a professor of dentistry, a sports writer, a homemaker, where they would sleep on the floor and for breakfast have soup and salad, or ham and eggs, or hamburger or fried chicken, as conscientious hosts watched expressions and helpings carefully to see which combination might be the most palatable to their American visitors.

 

—Albuquerque Journal, June 18, 1979

… with a particular emphasis on breakfast.

Mosts hosts spoke no English but there was communication. Individual experiences were eye opening, heartwarming and hilarious.

Margaret Brito, a Veterans Hospital nurse on the trip with her husband, Manuel, brought popcorn as one of her gifts, a suggestion from a preflight workshop. The information was outdated for the rapidly changing  country. Korea has plenty of popcorn.

With no communication to explain, the Korean translation of Margaret’s gift was that she was addicted to it. …

So, every morning Margaret got an enormous bowl of popped corn. “One morning  I had soup, bacon and eggs, fried fish, fried zucchini and noodles for breakfast,” says Margaret. “Then my hostess came out with a glass of orange juice, and that great big bowl of popcorn.”

—Albuquerque Journal, July 1, 1979

Overall, it sounds like Kailer, and many of the other Americans, had a fun and enlightening experience.

Those anticipating some kind of Oriental personality stereotype were in for a surprise. Instead of inscrutability or studied politeness, they found enthusiasm. The collective impression of the Korean personality was: hearty, open and responsive. They displayed a capacity for hilarity, and a penchant for whimsy and poking fun.

—Albuquerque Journal, July 1, 1979

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