Mother’s Day Stories: Off to Korea, but never far from home

Janine MacLean discovered huge Kimchi Pots in Yongin, South Korea, a trip her mom didn’t initially want her to take. is running a series of articles from our writers about Mother’s Day and how travel can enhance relationships. We’d be delighted to hear about your favourite travel experience or photo that shows your appreciation of time spent with Mom or with your kids! Email us!

Story by Janine MacLean Food Columnist

My mother and I have not always shared the close relationship we enjoy today. Growing up, I was certainly a handful — getting into trouble at school (mainly because I always had to have the last word), arguments about clothes, parties and boyfriends, and never wanting to eat what was planned for dinner.

I’m happy to say I’ve grown up, and my mom and I have grown extremely close. Although I’ve inherited excellent traits from my mother, my inherent love of travel was never one of those. My mother spent a good part of my adolescence trying to keep me as close to home as she could — an impossible task for the parent of a born backpacker.

When I graduated from university and informed her I would be moving to the other side of the world, to teach English in South Korea, she didn’t try to stop me. When I told her I would be going alone, she merely pursed her lips together and told me it would be a wonderful experience. At the time, my father was in Alberta working for the summer (as so many Cape Bretoners do) and my mom would be alone after I left. This was a concern to me, but I was also really looking forward to my first out-of-country experience. She seemed fine with letting me go and I couldn’t quite believe it.

We packed up my life in two suitcases, and then she drove me to the airport. What we weren’t aware of was the time. I had missed the cut-off point for my flight from Halifax to Toronto (where I was catching a connecting flight to Seoul) and the kind people at Air Canada refused to check my luggage. I said I didn’t care if I didn’t have my bags, I had to get on that flight. My mother pursed her lips and told me it would be fine, that she would send my luggage later. (Six months later, half of my luggage arrived. A year later, I came home for a brief visit and got the rest.)

Janine and her kindergarten class. Suwon, South Korea

She said goodbye at the security check. I don’t recall seeing her cry, but I was definitely sobbing. She told me I would be okay and sent me on my way to Asia.

Eighteen hours later, after a very long flight, I was picked up by my new school at the Incheon Airport. The school’s director took me shopping for necessities (there is no deodorant anywhere in Korea, by the way) and then took me to his apartment where I could call home to tell my mother I had safely arrived.

“Oh, Janine,” she sobbed, her extreme relief evident even on the other side of the world. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

I spent the next 10 minutes calming her down, telling her I was with friendly folks, that I was taken shopping for necessities and I was settled in my little apartment. She was beyond happy to hear this news.

That’s my mom — strong when she needs to be, and so very brave. She couldn’t — wouldn’t — show me how scared she was for me until she was sure I was fine, sure I wasn’t scared anymore myself. I will always remember and cherish that long-distance phone conversation.

To read more about Janine’s Korean adventure, check out her blog archives, Getting My Suwon.

Kathleen Kenna:
Finland made unforgettable thanks to Mom
Nicole Keck: Moms are our first travel companions
Tricia Edgar:
What happens when you put down the camera on a family vacation

Reunited after a year in South Korea, Janine MacLean and her mom.

Janine is's Food Columnist. Growing up in a tiny farming community on Cape Breton Island, Janine knew at a young age that she was destined for travel and as a young girl would spend hours poring over her father’s outdated globe, dreaming of the places she would someday visit. Twenty-something years later, she is now based in Toronto where she works as a chef and writer, having travelled throughout Asia, Canada and Ireland (with more trips to come!).

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