So I went to my second-or-third college party last night. It was a dinner party, mind you, with potluck breakfast to boot and a boy who brought a guitar. Although I had never been to a party like this before (all the while I was plotting to have a dinner party of my own), it would be the second time that I made a special international connection that warmed my heart.
Amidst the smells of potato scramble and the soft whoomp of a husky tail as the beautiful beast basked in the 14 guests' admiring attention, I met a girl named Ray who said I touched her, but who really touched me. She was a petite Chinese girl with pretty chin-length black hair and sweet eyes. She was an electrical engineering Ph.D. student, but when she learned I was a writer, she practically fangirled all over me. She said that she loved to read and that she had always dreamed of being a writer.
She loved novels and getting lost in a book but unfortunately, due to the Chinese school system, wasn't encouraged to pursue her dreams in the creative arts because her college admission examinations revealed that she was stronger in math and science versus language and history, an event that made it more practical for her to attend the university that would equip her to become an engineer. She said the Chinese test (which would be like our ACT English test) was very difficult, and the history curriculum was nearly impossible, with 5,000 years to account for.
Hearing Ray moan about the ruthlessness of the examinations that the Chinese prepared for all of their childhood lives as well as the quiet disappointment in her voice when she told me how she wasn't allowed to pursue a degree in the arts saddened me. Despite all of my liberal-minded scoff at the injustices our country has caused, meeting Ray reminded me, once again, to be proud and most of all grateful to be an American. When she added me on Facebook I was reminded once again, just like my other dear friend from overseas, that she wasn't allowed to use social media in her home country.
I met Minjung Kwak (I call her Min) my very first semester at OSU. She was a Korean exchange student from a Chinese university who became a fast friend after I shared that I was part Korean. That semester Min was my class buddy, my lunch date and my finals week solace. She was sweet, smart, funny, joyful, down-to-earth and just beautiful. I will always remember that she was my first girlfriend at OSU and how supported and good about myself she made me feel during that brutal first semester. We keep in touch over Facebook and it's like I can hear her sweet voice as I read her messages.
A few times, Min took me to her adopted church here in Stillwater. A Korean Baptist church, it was small and sweet and the most welcoming and warm church I had visited yet. While the community aspect of the church wowed me for sure, what really stuck with me was the international aspect. Amongst the dark hair and bubble of Asian language was a pair of overalls, a southern drawl. The church wasn't all Korean, and this wasn't a problem at all.
Because the congregation was primarily Korean and the preacher was Korean himself, I wonder now whether those old, "overall-ed" men were vets from the Korean War so many years ago. I can't remember if I saw that any of them were perched beside little old ladies who resembled my Halmoni (Korean for grandmother). Either way, the congregation feeling was familial, and the preacher gave Korean sermons that were translated by a youth leader into English.
One of the sermons was about unity despite differences. I remember the way that my fellow OSU students approached me, sticking their hands out for unaccustomed handshakes that often morphed into simpler held hands. The sentiment of the latter was the more appropriate.
At the dinner party almost two whole years later, my new friend Ray oohed and ahhed over my recent Ed Sheeran Odyssey piece about love, asking me if I wrote for the BBC. I laughed and explained how the university-based journalism site worked, and sheepishly -- but joyously -- accepted her exclamations that she could feel my words in her heart. I told her that while she felt that I had touched her with my words, it was truly me who was touched to hear and see this reader from another place who could nonetheless identify and relate to my experience. A touching moment for a writer and a human soul indeed.
After a dinner of quiche and muffins and fruit punch (Ray wasn't crazy about the cheese and ice cream), one of the Chinese students, a statistics Ph.D. student, asked the girls lingering in the kitchen to come to the living room to hear the music he had prepared for them. Brandishing the guitar he had kept close by all evening, Chase, long-limbed and strong-jawed, was no longer a Chinese international student, even as he sang in Chinese.
Strumming and crooning warmly, his face pressing and relaxing into a musician's focused mask, Chase was no longer a boy who looked different and spoke another language, but just a man playing a love song. I watched the girls' faces open into awe, all wide eyes and open mouths, as they watched the boy with the guitar.
Afterwards, the girls insisted that Chase should play at the homecoming walkaround, and that the parents would love to see him play. I agreed. Although he was his best when he played and sang in a different language, anyone could understand the soulful way he performed, inside his heart and out. As I found out when Ray read my article, love and music were universal.