Somewhere in my first few months of learning Korean, I was listening to my usual grammar lessons when the speaker introduced an expression that I now often find myself inserting into English sentences – at least mentally.
When I see or hear something for the first time and I have a positive reaction to it, I can say in English, “I like it,” whether it’s music, clothing, food, or a place. In Korean, saying “I like [something]” indicates that I’m familiar with it already, and yes, I like it. A first sight of a pretty dress, a first listen to a hit song, a first view of a beautiful place, all merit the uniquely Korean expression, “It enters my heart.” For those who read Korean: 마음에 들어요. For those who can’t: ma-eum-e dul-eoyo.
Learning the Korean language is more than a self-inflicted mental challenge for me: I am privileged to be in South Korea, experiencing the beginnings of a small Bruderhof community of about twenty people ranging from five to eighty-five years old: foreigners and Koreans, families and singles. Initially, we lived in separate apartment buildings in the city of Taebaek. Earlier this year, we all moved to a countryside property in Yeongwol to better share a communal life and welcome visitors. With help from neighbors, we’re learning which vegetables grow best, how much rain monsoons bring, how much one local rooster can crow, and more.
By now, days fly by quickly in Yeongwol, but they didn’t at first. One April morning, I woke up to the sound of rain pattering on the carport roof below my window. I love that sound. April showers aren’t assumed in Korea; springtime is a dry season complete with wildfires. Additionally, dust blowing in from China’s vast deserts (not to mention the airborne import of “made in China” pollution) makes rain a welcome air purifier and fire extinguisher.
Raindrops spoke comfort but didn’t wash away the nagging feeling that this wasn’t home. I’m a nature lover, so the imposing mountains, the river, the big sky, should have grabbed my heart, but their charms had only gotten detached mental acknowledgement from me. Evening jogs lacked their usual pleasure: I missed having large apartment buildings nearby, the sound of a train pausing traffic, the brightly lit little storefronts, the small, easy-to-climb mountains, and the people – those I knew and those I didn’t. I knew my new home had to take root in my heart at some point. I just needed time and a catalyst.
I got up to take a pre-breakfast walk in the pattering rain. I took a now-familiar route down the road, across the bridge, and back. Something happened. The white mist gently suspended near the tops of the dark gray-green mountains and the silver-highlighted river caught my heart. Ma-eum-e dul-eoyo. It enters my heart. I didn’t know the place well yet and I wouldn’t have thought a gray morning could have such bewitching beauty. But it did. Something clicked and my new home felt like, well, home.
Once more, the season pauses a moment, as if giving me a chance to catch up. Almost as if aware that their deep green summer look is getting old, the mountainside trees grab my attention again with autumnal brilliance. Yellows and oranges, dark pines and bright red maples match my memories of autumns in New York. With the spreading colors, my own sense of belonging is growing. The river, teeming with large birds (that everyone else can name), captivates me as much as each subtle sunset beyond the dusty blue mountains. At night, the stars seem closer than before.
My old home still holds a firm and special place in my heart, but it has moved over to share the space. I like this new home. It has entered my heart.