Eating a self-made dinner alone in the room, coming back to an empty room after a long day and having no one to talk to, no one to confide in their daily annoyances; this is not an unfamiliar routine for students living away from their families. As students who live far away from Ewha come to live on their own near the school, they part from the shelter of their family earlier than other students who still live with their families. These students unfold a new chapter in their lives, experiencing life without their family members under the same roof and realizing the true value of their family at the same time.
“At first, living away from my family was difficult for me. I felt lonely whenever I was alone, because I was so used to having my family around before I moved to Seoul from Daejon,” said Yoo Myung-hae (English Literature, 2) who has been living in a boarding room near Ewha since her second year. Other than the loneliness coming from being alone, students also have a hard time managing household chores when they move out of their homes. “Managing household chores by myself which my mother used to take care of made me think about my home back in Incheon,” said Lee Gi-ppeum (Elementary Education, 2)
Taking care of meals is another matter of concern for students living alone. “I often skip meals because I do not have time or skill and the task of cooking a meal is just too troublesome. I really miss the meals that my mom cooked for my family,” said Gim Hyo-jin (Business Administration, 3).
Likewise, these students have started to realize the true importance of their family as they started live on their own without their family members. “Other than missing my family whenever I have trouble taking care of household chores or meals, I miss my family even more when I am sick but do not have anyone next to me,” said Gim. She went on to say that she also thinks about her family whenever things go well for her because she never loses the feeling that her family is always cheering for her. On special days such as birthdays or wedding anniversaries, students tend to think about their family more since they cannot celebrate with their family members face to face.
Nonetheless, although students go through hardships from being parted from their family, they also experience a strengthening of ties between family members in some ways. “I did not have a lot of time to talk to my parents when I lived with them because we were so busy with our own lives. However, I have to call my mom and dad every day on the phone, so I think the time that I actually talk to them has increased,” said Gim.
Lee also agrees with Gim that since she no longer takes her family for granted as people who will always be next to her, she feels a stronger attachment to them. “I was not that close to my dad before. But as I was able to express my feelings and thoughts more frankly through the phone every day, I naturally became closer to him.” Lee added that even the relationship between her mother and father improved as the two of them started to rely on each other more after sending their children to university.
However, Yoo expressed concerns about whether or not her family members will be able to live together under the same roof again. “Although I have realized the true importance of family since me and my brother live away from our family, strengthening ties while living away from each other is not the same as bonding together face to face under the same roof,” said Yoo.
In contrast to these Ewha students who live away from their families, but do have the chance to visit their family a few times during the semester; exchange students who have come to Ewha without a chance to see their family at all during the semester also feel their love and longing intensifying for their family. Ashley Chandler (East Tennessee State University, 3) said that she missed her family a lot when she first came to Korea. “Adjusting to a new environment in a whole different country in which I do not know a single person was difficult for me. It made me think about my family a lot,” said Chandler.
Another exchange student from Netherlands, Ralf Anema (University Leeuwarden, 4) said that he especially misses his sister and his grandfather , with whom he was especially close. “When I heard the news that my girlfriend’s grandfather passed away, I thought of my grandfather and how I am spending my time away from him when the time that I can spend with him is so limited,” said Anema.
Anema who is in a different situation from most students since he already has a daughter, commented that, “Living away from family in which you are the parent is different from living away from your parents. I feel more responsible and selfish that I came here to study. I am going to spend as much time as I can when I go back.”
Students realize the true value of their family once they are actually parted from them and feel of their absence. Although some students say that the relationship with their parents has improved due to increased communication, there is a certain limit to that since they do not live together, seeing each other face to face every day.
To make up for these shortcomings, students have special plans for their parents for Parents’ Day on May 8. “I am going to write a heartfelt letter expressing what I had in my mind about my parents with a present and a dinner with the money that I made for the first time,” said Yoo.
Gim plans to prepare a dinner for her parents which she has never done before. “Although presents can touch the hearts of parents, what I think is more important is to always express your love for your family members. Koreans tend to be passive in outwardly expressing their love to parents. But once you start doing so, it is not that hard,” advised Gim.