After twelve hours of sore flight, I landed on a beautiful, and sparsely populated peaceful island country called New Zealand. From 1841 to 1907, NZ was once claimed as a colony of England. Their influences are found on New Zealanders, such as their accent, which is not exactly the same as an English accent. As soon as I got off the plane, what I felt was the unfriendly temperature of the atmosphere. It was still August, but while I was walking on the bridge between the plane and the airport, I could feel the dryness of the air that slipped in through the little gap. The season was the complete opposite from  where I have originally come from. Since New Zealand is located in the Southern hemisphere, it was winter already at that time. My lips dried quickly, and cracked painfully.

My guardian, who looked about fifty years old, showed up in the airport holding my name card; “Chai Hyeon Lim.” Her reddish-brown hair with matching color tone of her glasses made her look somewhat unnatural, and I felt really distant from her. Strangely, she knew who I was right away when I saw her small dark brown eyes.  She smiled, showing her nicely lined teeth. After putting my entire luggage on the squeaky cart, we slowly walked together to the exit. My guardian raised her thin right arm and gently grasped my shoulder to lead me to the parking lot. She unlocked her turquoise blue car with its quick beeping noise and that made me jump a little. Then we placed my heavy luggage safely in the trunk. I sat right beside her on the large passenger seat that made me feel dwarfed.

We first headed to the school called “Somerville Intermediate School,” where I would be going. In the car we did not talk much, but it was not awkward. She played soft classical music that eventually made me fall asleep. She was a good driver. She never raced down the road, and followed the limit of the speed that was given. On the way to there, I saw many beautiful two-story houses. They all had unique features of designs but most of them were white with pinkish red roofs. Since I lived in an apartment in a crowded city, this was very new to me. I became excited to meet my homestay family, who I never met before. “Who knows, I might be living in one of those houses that I always dreamed of.”

After a short nap in the car, I saw a lot of sheep playing on the grass field. My guardian quietly explained that in this country, sheep and cows are easy to see because the people who own them raise their animals freely on their property. Compared to other animals, such as puppies in a pet store that are raised in a small fence or cage, I thought those animals had a much better life.

When we arrived at the school, the president, who looked much a like senior version of Harry Potter, showed me around the school. The school grounds were bigger than where I used to go. They had two playgrounds, two grass fields, one basketball court, and one huge track field. Also, they had a huge library that had plenty of books, and all the classrooms had these windows that covered the whole wall of one side. He said that during the summer time the teachers opened them to let their students work in the sun. The only inconvenience was that they did not have a cafeteria, so all the students had to bring their own lunch every day.

As soon as I bought my school uniforms in the small school shop that was located in the corner of the gym, we went to see my homestay family, who lived thirty minutes away by car. The house was not the type of house I imagined on the road, but I was still thrilled to experience a new lifestyle in New Zealand. The homestay family members were four, and they just let me call them Mum and Dad, so I could feel more comfortable living with them. The two sisters, Laura (the older sister) and Emma (the younger sister), were both taller than me.

Mum had a short, blond hair with big blue eyes. She was a policewoman, so I felt this invisible power coming from her. After having a few conversations with her it was easy to figure out that she was strict with house rules, such as making beds every morning. She also told me that I had to wake up early in the morning on the weekdays because she had to drop off me and the two sisters at our schools, and they were all in different locations.

Dad looked older than Mum and had short grey hair. He was very tall and he worked as a railroad engineer. Whenever I had questions, he would always answer kindly.

Laura was sixteen-years old, and was three years older than me. She had long brown hair that she often tied into a ponytail. She normally dressed comfortably around the house, in hoodies and sweats. I liked visiting her room because it was always clean and warm and she had this big cushy chair, which was really fun to sit on.

Emma’s room was never organized and it was often messy. She was eleven-years old and had a long blond hair just like her mom. Every time I went to her room, her dolls were lying on the floor everywhere and I think she did not take a bath often either. I remember teaching her simple math, and she got lost all the time.

Fortunately, I had my own room, which used to be their storage place. There was a big window that was framed by woods and beige curtains were hanging on both sides. The light in the room was pretty dim, which gave me a hard time when I was doing coloring assignments for school, but I thought it was not too bad overall until a few days later when the weather started get colder. Mum put an electronic blanket on top of my bed sheet for me, but it only worked for three days. So, I touched the time controller to figure out what was wrong. It seemed like I had to set the time to get it to work every day. When Mum found out that I had set the controller myself, she got really mad and told me not to touch it again. I could not understand at first why she acted like that.

That night I could not fall sleep. I was shivering and shrank my body to make my feet warm. However, after three hours I was still awake with stiffness. I let my fingers touch the controller of their own accord. I was scared about Mum finding out about it, but I thought she wouldn’t know if I set the controller back to how it looked before. As soon as the heat started to flow in the bed, I was able to fell asleep.

I heard my door open and somebody came in silently, though they were in a hurry. Since my eyes were still closed, I did not know who the person was. After ten seconds I had to sit up straight with fear. “Chai Hyeon! Wake up!” The person was Mum, and she was holding the controller with rage. She came into my room to check the controller. I was scared and could not say anything. She mentioned again that I should not touch the controller, and this time she added that more electricity cost a lot of money. Every night since then, I slept shivering. Then after a week, I took out my heavy parka to fall asleep. But it was never warm enough.

I really wanted to tell my parents all about this. But I could not tell them quite easily. One of the reasons was that I had to borrow the homestay house phone to call my parents, so the time was limited. Also, Mum would stare at me most of the time when I was on the phone. Even though we did not speak the same language, I was very scared to talk about the hardship that I was having. One time my father called homestay’s phone to talk to me. He asked, “I heard that it is very cold in New Zealand right now (in Korean). Is the heater working well in your room?” Then I accidently said, “Oh, the heater (in Korean)…” which sounds similar to the heater in English. I could not continue my sentence because Mum was looking straight at me. It felt like the air was frozen for a few seconds and I could not stop thinking that she would kill me if I made any negative expressions on the phone. So, I tried to speak naturally and as happily as possible to show Mum that I was talking positively about living in this house.

When I look back I think I was weak, timid, pitiful, and unfortunate to meet this kind of family my first time studying abroad. Even though it was not a happy memory I think it gave me a good lesson that I should be thankful to my parents for all the things they have done for me, and I am grateful to have a home that is always filled with love and warmth.

Clia (Chai Hyeon) Lim was born in Seoul, Korea and lived there for thirteen years. When Clia turned fourteen, she attended schools in New Zealand and Canada. She is a senior majoring in Illustration at the School of Visual Arts.