by Aerian Irvin
There are several things that remind me of Seoul whenever I see them. One of those things is mountains. With Seoul being nestled in the mountains, being reminded of Seoul whenever I see mountains makes sense. My first time coming to Korea was when I was 13 months old, and the last time I lived in Korea was when I was 10 years old with my 11th birthday being a couple months after the day my family moved back to the States permanently. For about 7 of the first 10 years of my life, I lived in Seoul with my life being a blend of experiencing life on Yongsan Garrison where I went for school, Taekwondo class, visiting friends, Girl Scouts, and much more, and also experiencing life off-base where I lived in different apartments in both Itaewon and Hannam-dong, hung out with friends, explored places in, outside, and around Seoul, and so much more. I guess to put it simply you could say I was an American kid living in a blend of two-worlds within the heart of Seoul.
Although I was young, I have both fond and strong memories of my childhood in Korea. Most of them come with me seeing familiar faces each time my family would return to Korea after living in the States. From talking to the Dragon Hill Lodge florist who always would have the deepest warmth when greeting us and countless others to taking Taekwondo lessons each week with my Taekwondo teacher. From the florist at the Dragon I learned how to show kindness, love and gratitude to others, and from my Taekwondo teacher I learned the importance of discipline, perseverance, and patience. Both people are just two examples of deeply special and influential people I met while living there.
Because I was young, the strongest memories I have now were perhaps the most impactful. When it comes to what I learned in school, much of what I remember is from my time in Korean culture class as well as the field trips we would take to places in and outside Seoul from the Korean Folk Village to the DMZ (my fifth grade field trip). In Korean culture class we would do everything from playing traditional Korean games, being read Korean folklore, learning how to read, speak, and write Korean, and learning about Korean history. A strong memory from one of my classes is of our teacher telling the class about her personal story of her family having to leave other family members behind in North Korea following the Korean War. At that moment, a part of me realized the amount of sorrow and pain that time carried, still carried, and still carries. It gave me a much deeper appreciation for where I was and made me eager to learn about the stories of the place where I was living and calling home at that time.
One crucial thing people should know is that the children who experienced what it meant to have the things on Yongsan Garrison be part of their life in Seoul were not calling or seeing the base as home. They were calling and seeing Seoul as their home. Other than the Dragon Hill Lodge florist, my Taekwondo instructor, and my Korean culture class teacher, there are so many, too many others to name, that made my childhood in Korea special and made me have a profound appreciation and respect for the culture, history, and society of the Land of the Morning Calm. I will always remember those beautiful mountains in Korea, but even more so, I will remember the people who throughout my childhood showed me love, care, gave me a greater appreciation and understanding for life and the world, and to whom I have so much to thank them for to this very day.