May 1, 2009
Photo courtesy of Jeannie Lyou
Derek Hommel (left) of Pompey poses in Incheon, South Korea, with his birth mother, Kim Hyang Rye, and his brother, Seo Jeong Ho, during Hommel's visit in April 2008
Derek Hommel never imagined he'd someday speak to his birth mother face to face.
During a trip to South Korea in 2008, he decided to search for her. Within two months, he reunited with his mother and met the brother he didn't know he had. But the language barrier made it hard to communicate.
Hommel will have another chance to reconnect with them when he returns to South Korea in July to teach English as a Fulbright Scholar. He said the possibility of holding a conversation with his family is his motivation to become proficient in Korean.
Although he doesn't know where he'll be placed in South Korea, he hopes he's close enough to his birth family to visit regularly.
Hommel, a 2004 Fayetteville-Manlius High School graduate, started the Fulbright application process last spring during his junior year of college.
"I wanted to pick a country I had some connection with," he said.
Korea was the obvious first choice. He also applied for other travel grants to Japan because of his interest in Japanese language and culture.
Hommel passed the initial Fulbright application review, but he didn't think he'd actually get the prestigious scholarship.
"When the acceptance package came, I thought I was going to have a heart attack," he said.
Hommel said the reality that he'll be living in the same country where he was born hasn't completely set in yet.
For now, he's concentrating on finishing his undergraduate degree at University of Rochester. He'll begin studying Korean more intensely after graduating in mid-May.
Upon arriving in Korea, Hommel will get his placement and go through an intensive language and culture orientation.
He said that while he's excited to be close to his birth family, his main objective is to teach English and give back through the scholarship program.