In my last post, I noted that Paris was a special place for me because it was where I met my best friend, Jen. For the past 10 years and counting, we have lived, eaten and explored countless cities and countries. Even though we live on opposite sides of the world, we still video chat like we are in the same room.
Although Jen and I both attended the same college, we did not meet on campus but in Paris, France during my senior year. At the time, I did not plan on studying abroad. I even missed the program's application deadline. At my friends' insistence, I inquired via email if there were available spots. Before I know it, I was sitting on the RER train with two suitcases headed to Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris in January 2006.
Jen and I were in two different programs living in different dorms on opposite sides of the Seine. One fateful night, I returned from a weekend visiting another friend in London, and I heard a knock on my door soon after I arrived back in my Parisian home. My fellow program mates, James and Catherine, were waiting outside and immediately invited me to dinner at a restaurant near the Luxembourg Gardens. At first, I was hesitant, but my curiosity (and hunger) got the better of me when they noted that this establishment specialized in duck.
Upon arrival, we found another waiting outside the restaurant, Sud Ouest. She introduced herself as Jen, and I had no idea that I would be meeting my platonic soulmate. It was around 6 pm, and the restaurant was empty. (This was how we learned that Parisians dined very late.) Over 4 courses and two bottles of wine, we talked about where we came from, shared numerous stories and excitement over our Parisian adventure and our future plans to explore the rest of the continent. Jen was already a step ahead. Before the program started, she backpacked through other parts of Europe and shared her favorite spots. This piqued my interest as I asked if she can show me where to find such places. For the rest of our time in Paris, we met at various cafes, patisseries, bakeries, cheese mongers, bistros and food stands to taste what the city has to offer. When we returned to campus, we continued our adventures exploring the Chicago food scene and lived together as roommates after graduation.
Growing up in the Midwest and upstate New York, I was never around a lot of Koreans. The few Koreans I did meet were just not that interesting and content to live their lives as expected. Jen is a Korean-American who was born and raised in Los Angeles. She did well in school, participated in extracurricular activities and spent summers in Korea visiting relatives. She seemed like any other Korean-American; however, we both struggled between traditional Korean values and the independent American ideals.
I didn't just meet someone who shared the same curiosity of the world and the adventurous spirit to explore its wonders. I found someone who understood the overwhelming joy of a tight-knit Korean family, the overbearing responsibility as an eldest daughter of a Korean immigrant family, and the heightened pressure to succeed in the Korean community. We shared our frustrations to connect with our immigrant parents growing up. We confided our fears of disappointing our parents who left everything they knew to ensure a better life for us. We even chuckled about how our Korean relatives confused our top tier university for a "Tier B" state school.
Through Jen, I found the sister I yearned for. She was not only among the first to celebrate my achievements, but she also supported me during the lowest points of my life. There aren't many people outside my family that I can count on to walk in when the rest of the world walks out. She gave me the total freedom to be myself and fully accepted that with open arms. For that I am thankful to have you as not only a friend but "family." Here's to another 10 years of friendship. <3