Seoul rolls out the red carpet for New Yorkers who helped stranded Korean tourists
The Buffalo-area couple was invited to South Korea after their good deed last December
After Alexander and Andrea Campagna welcomed a group of stranded Korean tourists into their home near Buffalo, NY, for a weekend during a blizzard last December, they didn't simply receive a card or gift basket as thanks.
The Korean Tourism Association invited them on a trip to Seoul. The Campagnas just returned Monday.
The tourism organization's president, Kim Jang-Sil told the New York Times that the government wanted to promote Korea's natural beauty, industry, and culture throughout the trip — and also show the couple the "warmhearted kindness" of the South Korean people. The Campagnas saw the sights and ate at top restaurants on the 10-day, all-expenses-paid tour, the paper reported.
Andrea Campagna spoke to As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about the trip. Here's part of their conversation.
Is it true that your first date was at a Korean restaurant?
Yes, it is. We ... connected over our first date with our love for Korean food and many other things in common.
According to the New York Times report on your trip, you were welcomed as heroes to South Korea. Did it seem like people there were familiar with your story?
I would say that most of the Korean people that we met were just absolutely lovely, welcoming, warm and friendly.
We were recognized by a few people that did come up to us that seemed to know our story. So that was really sweet.
But it's sort of cute because we would have taken anybody, and we were happy to help. So, it just seems like such an amazing welcome and such a generous gift to send us to Korea.
What went through your head when you were first invited on the trip?
It was such an amazing blessing and honour. It was just a beautiful gesture on behalf of the Korean tourism organization to offer to send us to Korea — and neither of us had ever been. So, it just seemed like just an incredible opportunity.
They wanted us to have the opportunity to experience Korean culture, its beauty, the cuisine, the natural history, different monuments. It was a way for us to be able to be immersed in the culture, but also as a gesture of thanks.
I understand that you were reunited with some of the travelers that you took into your home during the storm in December. What was it like to be reunited with them?
It was such an amazing, emotional experience to see them doing well and happy and healthy, back in Korea. And we are very close with the travellers.
It was such a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with them in person.
When they talk about their experience in your home in Buffalo ... what are the memories that stand out for them?
During our luncheon when we reconnected with the travellers, we went around the table and people were sharing some of their personal observations and recollections from that weekend.
Some of the travellers said that they were amazed when they opened up the refrigerator and saw that we had a lot of Korean condiments and spices and a surplus of food.
Some of them felt as if we were almost prepared to have them stay there — almost like it was fate.
One of them said something about the fact that you had a rice cooker was a good omen.
Yes. And I hope that that all helped them to feel comfortable and welcome and know that they were in a home that they could really rest in and be safe from the blizzard.
Tell us about the meal you all shared together.
Well, when the tourists found out that we actually had our first date at a Korean restaurant, they asked if we could recall what we had. They tried to recreate that dish as a gesture of thanks to us and it was an absolutely delicious meal.
It was really a fun way to spend our time during the blizzard cooking together.
Do you think any of the people that you welcomed in your home would like to come back and see you as well?
I would hope that they would love to travel back to the U.S., although I wouldn't recommend coming back to Buffalo in the winter again. But they're always welcome in our home.
I think that these people, we will remain close with for a long time.
Interview with Andrea Campagna produced by Chris Trowbridge. Edited for length and clarity.