As I waited for the International student’s officer who was swamped by students, I pondered my current dilemma. I was new to the US and I was in need of a place to stay in College. I had the option of getting a place off campus or stay on campus. I wasn’t sure, but I was advised by my (newly made) orientation friends that I should check with the International office for offers.
When I met the lady, she told me of an offer by a Korean student who needed a roommate. Pause! Korean? Do “they” speak English – was the first question that came to mind. My thoughts were interrupted by the lady who said something like, “if you are sure it’s what you want, I can connect you to him”. I mumbled yes (not thinking much about it) and she wrote the address on a sticky note and handed it to me.
Fifteen minutes later, as I walked down the aisle not knowing what to expect….All I kept saying to my self was ”my roommate is going to be a Korean”…. (which wasn’t what I expected when I hopped on a plane to the US).
I reach Room 418, deep breathe…knock, knock…quick footsteps and then the door was opened. An Asian (note, at this point, all Asians looked the same to me) fellow peered through the crack and invited me in. As I entered the sparsely furnished living room, I am greeted by a stare from his friend who is mumbling some English that I can barely understand towards my direction and make an effort to reciprocate with my own heavily accented English. At this point, my potential roommate comes back into the living room and official introductions commence.
The introduction and rules of the apartment are painlessly hashed out (i still wonder to this day how we survived the initial interaction between his poor English and my heavy accent) and we decided that we can make it work. At this point, I’m like “this could actually be a good idea”, but, it all came crashing down when he opened the fridge to offer me a beer – I can still remember this like it was yesterday. I was hit with a strong smell that my brain could not process. It felt as if there was a decaying body in the fridge. I casually glanced into the fridge to be sure these people were not lunatics, after which I looked at his friend to see his facial reaction to this smell, but the guy was grinning at me. At this point, I started having second thoughts, and the off-campus option became appealing.
I fought the urge to bolt out the door and decided to ride the ship and after a week of almost suffocating in the apartment, I finally asked him what were in those huge pickle-like bottles from which the death smell were emanating from. He smiled and said Kimchi. “Do you eat it?” Was the next question that rolled off my tongue, as he was saying “yes, we……”…. How can you eat it? It looks and smells bad” was the follow-up. All those questions culminated in a 2 hour lecture on Korean diets where I got to know Kimchi was basically fermented cabbage – a Korean staple.
Funny that after a while, I became accustomed to the smell and I was the one introducing my friends to this experience. I savored the look on their faces once they walked into my apartment, only to tell them “relax, it’s just Kimchi”.