When a Stranger Approaches...

Whether you want to or not, you will experience some strange occurrences while studying abroad.

I stepped into the elevator of my apartment and noticed that a pregnant woman was already in it. Silently, I pushed the button to my floor, and the elevator began to ascend. Not to my surprise, the woman said hello to me—in English, of course. In my head, I quickly prepared the explanation of where I’m from, why I’m here, and whom I’m living with, as I find myself in this type of conversation quite. I performed the obligatory small talk, but what happened next shocked me.

When we reached her floor, she asked me to step out of the elevator with her. She seemed excited to meet me so I obliged and followed her out. We spoke for a bit more, which wasn’t unpleasant at all because I got to practice my Korean.

Then she asked me to come into her apartment.

This is where I froze. She wanted me to what? Red flags went off in my mind, and I began the movie reel of my horror-movie-like death. At a very young age in the United States, I was taught to never, never ever, go into a stranger’s house, especially one that you just met. Not even if she was pregnant. For all I knew, that pregnant woman was just bait to bring people into her home, only to be murdered by her husband or herself. But my feet had a mind of their own, and they forced me through the door. Before I knew it, I was taking off my shoes. My reasoning at the time was that one, Korea is a relatively safe country; two, Koreans have been similarly cordial to me in the past due to their excitement in my foreignness; and three, she was a really pregnant lady, like, about to burst. Why would a pregnant lady risk her baby’s life to attack me?

Once inside and seated, she gave me some snacks. I was still conscious after the first few bites; that was reassuring. We spoke for some time just talking about each other, but mostly about me. Suddenly, she received a phone call, and disappeared into a room behind me. As I munched on Tim Tams, I heard the phone call end, and then her footsteps. Very slow footsteps. At that moment I was certain that the grim reaper had accompanied her in preparation to take my soul. I stopped chewing, but I couldn’t pull myself together to look behind me. Her footsteps became louder… and closer… and louder… and closer. And then to my relief she passed me. The reason she was walking so slowly was because she was texting. Crisis averted.

After an appropriate amount of time, I said goodbye and agreed to meet with her again sometime in the near future. When I retold this story to my host sister and host mother they reassured me that it wasn’t a dangerous situation. They weren’t even that surprised.

Now, I do not suggest that you should ever enter someone’s house that you have just met on a whim. You must assess the situation and act accordingly. Although Korea is a relatively safe country this does not mean that you can stroll into anyone’s house and expect to have polite conversation and eat snacks. If you ever find yourself in a situation similar to my story, please use your best judgement.

Cautionary note aside, experiences like these make me really cherish people who are so open to making international friends, and don’t hesitate to talk to someone from another country when the moment strikes. I made a new friend because of her courage. I want to learn from her and have the courage to speak to others as well. Maybe not invite them to my house immediately, but still have that spontaneity of making a friend wherever I may be, even if it’s in an elevator.

Have you ever randomly sparked up a conversation with a stranger from another country? Or perhaps were you the one that, like me, was sucked into the conversation? Feel free to talk about your experience in the comments below!^^

~Raquel “Rocky”



Raquel “Rocky” Reinagel is a MA candidate and graduate assistant in the Department of Second Language Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa; former president of Hanwoori Hawaiʻi; and Co-President of the Second Language Studies Student Association (SLSSA) at UHM.