I had ridden the bus from Monte de la Cruz back to San Rafael perhaps once or twice in my life, and I was still feeling nervous as I arrived back at my host family’s house. The rest of the evening stretched before me, of sitting and socializing as best as I could with my unconfident, apologetic Spanish before I settled down to work on my mountain of daily homework. Being an introvert using broken Spanish in an unfamiliar environment, I wondered where my limit was with this routine.
“Do you want coffee or tea?” Rosi asked as I sat down at the glass dining room table and my host mom continued through the white-curtained doorway to the kitchen.
“Tea’s fine,” I responded, glancing at the clock. “Thank you.”
“With or without milk?”
Rosi and I would sit at the table enjoying afternoon coffee or tea quite later than normal for many Costa Ricans, since I came back from classes around 6pm. Usually, she would do most of the talking in our conversations, and I would nod and do my best to comprehend and answer questions. I usually understood most of what she said. The structure of our conversations suited me well back then, in that it wasn’t demanding or too terribly stressful, and I learned quite a bit about faith, family, and life in general.
And Rosi, a petite woman with short, curly black hair and an eager smile, has had some amazing experiences. In a constant battle with herniated discs in her back, she has faced death twice, but pulled through. She and Gilberth, her husband, believe God provides and that each day, healthy or otherwise, is a gift. And while I agree with them, I know I don’t understand it anywhere near as well as they do.
Rosi and Gilberth do their best to remember to speak clearly and enunciate when they talk to me, but sometimes Rosi especially gets excited and goes off a little too quickly for me to follow. I’m getting better at it, though.
Many afternoons, I would have té con leche with Rosi and Gilberth, and it was the best tea I had ever had. Up until that point I had experimented with adding milk to tea, but it had never been as perfect as the tea Rosi makes.
God willing, this summer I will be able to go back to Costa Rica and spend time with my host family, to have tea and share more stories and make more memories, now that my Spanish has improved and they’re extended family, not friendly strangers.
The Seoul subway system is glorious. With a good map, a naïve traveler like myself can easily traverse around the staggering size of South Korea’s capitol. On my juniors abroad trip this last May, we learned to navigate said system, and we had ample free time to explore and have adventures, some of which took us to Kyobo Bookstore, the Eat Your Kimchi Studio, and Namdaemun Market.
One of the many things I love about Asia is that milk tea is super available there, in convenience stores, grocery stores, coffee shops, and even in the subway. On one occasion, a few friends and I were on our way back through the latter, and we found a small bubble tea shop. (Bubble tea is milk tea with tapioca pearls or the like in it).
Spur of the moment, we entered, because I’m obsessed with milk tea, and why not? We had time. And they had taro bubble tea, which I couldn’t pass up.
I tried to use as little English as I could with the cashier. In South Korea, some of the people we encountered at the register were eager to talk with us and ask where we were from. Others would get this nervous look in their eyes, as if silently willing me not to start spouting a significant amount of English. I understand the latter feeling all too well, and I tried to have mercy on them. I only wish I spoke more Korean.
We stayed in the bubble tea shop until we had just about finished our tea, because even though the space was tiny, it was also bright and friendly, and there were a few tables, despite the scarcity of elbow-room. Part of me wanted to leave because we were so close to the cash register, but I found ways to keep my awkwardness at bay—mostly by watching my friends talk to the women working the counter.
We didn’t stay there significantly long, but I still clearly picture that teashop between two subway lines under Seoul. When I have similar drinks here in the United States, I still think of the that place, of trying to take up as little space as I could because 5’5 ½” is still kind of tall for a person in Korea. I think of the new friends I made and everything I saw and learned in my short time there.
So I have a preoccupation with milk tea. In and of itself, the drink is beautiful, hot or cold. But for me it is also a reminder of my travels, of the relationships and experiences I have found through them, and how they continue to change me. And it serves as a teaser, a deep-seated conviction that many more experiences are yet to come.
While my studies are keeping me more-or-less tethered to one region for the next eight months, I keep Tutti Frutti tea from Costa Rica, black tea, and sugar in my cupboard, and milk in the fridge.
For now, I’ll work and study and dream, and when the time comes, I’ll break out my passport again.