By Suha Choi, IV Form
Travel Reflections: Cultural Immersion in Lovely Airbnbs
This June, when sunshine and the early hints of summer were slowly surrounding us, I was very lucky to travel to Europe with my family! This trip was the first time my sister and I visited Europe. We traveled in a rental minivan around many cities and sites. The route included Milan, Florence, Rome, Venice, Nancy, Paris, and Lucerne. I am extremely glad that I had a chance to visit countless sites of human history and landmarks! In this reflection, instead of simply listing the places I visited, I am going to recount a few moments that remain the most memorable to me.
Culture lies everywhere, in the lifestyle and daily bases of people. It is embedded in the restaurants we go to, in the streets we walk, and on the faces and in the words of people we meet. But I believe that there is no place like home to reflect the cultures and lifestyles of people so precisely. What kind of food they eat, how many security locks are set in the door, what kind of books are stored on the shelves, and what time they turn off their lights and go to bed are the small details and factors that define identity and form a culture. During my trip, because our family chose to stay in Airbnbs, which are actual houses rented from the local people, instead of in regular hotels, we were able to directly experience the lifestyles of the people in Europe. Of the dozen of Airbnbs we have been to, two still linger in my heart, and I wish to share them.
Nancy is a small, serene town located near Paris. When our family walked into the pastel yellow house that looked huge even from the outside, we saw a man around his eighties, with a big grandpa smile on his face. He said, “bonjour!” He greeted each one of us and gave us a kiss on our cheeks, and my dad looked a little shocked. I loved the sweet and amiable atmosphere of the French culture. I noticed almost every part of the French culture reflected the very opposite of Korean culture. Everything that was so slow in France was unbelievably quick in Korea, and the warm and neighborly people in France were different from the always-busy and urban people in Korea. Of course, I appreciated both contrasting cultures so much each for different reasons, but I could not get over my shock at how things could be so amazingly different in this same world, yet how we all managed to adapt to these different lifestyles and interact with each other. Our Airbnb host led us to the dining room where he handed us two giant baguettes. They were the best baguettes I have tasted in my life. With his limited English skills, our host would try to mix in French words and hand gestures here and there, and we would laugh along because we surprisingly understood everything he told us! Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to grab photos around the house, but I hope that my words can describe as much of the beauty and amazement I experienced at this place!
Silvia and Carla, two ladies who looked exactly identical, were standing in front of an apartment in Florence. When our family walked out of the car, they gave big, bright smiles, saying “Ciao, welcome to the Twins’ Boboli House! As our twin hosts guided us into the apartment, we noticed the incredible number of locks they put on the door. It was very different from the Airbnb in Nancy, where there was minimal security and things were all so quiet. The twin explained that since the house was located in the center of the city, surrounded by many sites and tourists, it was very crucial for them to look after security. After the arduous work of all the door opening, I walked into the house, with great amazement.
The house was one of the most beautiful and ornate places I have been to. Different patterns and colors of the furniture and decorations caught my eyes right away. I quickly noticed that the ceiling of the house was covered with a very antique, elaborate painting that resembled a very classic Renaissance-era painting. I could not help but run around the house with uncontrollable excitement, shouting “Bello!” to the two hosts, which meant ‘beautiful’ in Italian.
Then, Silvia, the older of the twin hosts, smiled and pointed at a picture hanging on the far wall. I went closer to take a look. In that picture were the two hosts wearing helmets and aprons, one drilling the woodwork, and the other one painting the ceiling. My eyes went wide. I turned out and asked, “Did you guys build the whole house?” They nodded. From furniture to walls, they had painted and remodeled everything. I could also tell how much effort and attention the twin sisters put into every single small decoration laid within the house. I later learned that they are both very active working architects and designers. More than all the fancy and delicate items that filled the house, what stunned me was the pride and excellence they put in their own jobs and work. This might be a little cheesy to say, but I really could see that their eyes were filled with great passion, ambition, and pride.
While I acknowledge that there are people with amazing talents everywhere in the world, I came to an observation about a particular aspect of Western culture which I admired. The culture, in general, seemed to pursue and engage in self-pride and confidence. Many Asian countries, including my home country Korea, emphasize the idea of humility and modesty, making it often difficult for people to exert confidence in themselves. This is what I love about traveling. While there are countless aspects I unexplainably love and appreciate about my home culture, I love that traveling provides me with a chance to realize that there is so much to learn and follow from foreign cultures. Even without a comparison between which culture is better than the other, it is simply exhilarating and overwhelming to face new and different cultures of the world.
Suha Choi is a IV form boarding student from Seongnam, South Korea. She loves eating avocados, listening to audiobooks, and going on walks.