There’s nothing stronger than a bond between brothers and sisters. For siblings Sharon and Joshua, the bond is even stronger than most. Not only because Korean culture creates strong family ties, but because for the last ten years, they’ve been the only two members of their family living in the United States.
Sharon, 27, is an actress living in Los Angeles, with her career keeping her tied to the Southland. Her brother Joshua, 29, is a Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. student at Georgia Tech, living in Atlanta. Though they may live on opposite coasts, their bond remains strong.
“He’s always been in Georgia. I’ve been in South Carolina, Virginia, and now LA. It was definitely easier to see him when I was on the east coast, but [more recently] we just fly back and forth during holidays to see each other,” says Sharon. “We’ve seen each other grow up and become adults.”
Sharon only has pictures from Joshua and Seoun’s wedding, as she was unable her brother’s wedding to attend due to the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed life for just about everyone, causing social circles to shrink and family rituals to change or disappear overnight. For tight-knit Sharon and Joshua, it prevented them from seeing the only family they had in the United States – each other.
“It’s been a really long year, and I really miss my family,” says Joshua.
Sharon agrees. “It was lonely. It was sad. But at the same time, I think it made us realize how important family is,” she adds.
While the family couldn’t gather because of the pandemic, they could keep in touch using FaceTime, Zoom, and the Korean app KakaoTalk. But even with the help of technology, the siblings still missed out on each other’s major life events throughout 2020.
Over the summer of 2020, Joshua married Seoun – a classical pianist who primarily speaks Korean. Because the wedding took place in South Korea, Sharon was unable to attend and has yet to meet Seoun, but is excited about the addition to her family.
“I’ve heard great things about her, and she’s beautiful,” says Sharon, “I’m very curious to see what kind of person she is. I’m really excited to just get to see her.”
2020 was also a big year for Sharon. She had an unofficial Zoom wedding ceremony to her fiancé of the last two years, Arnold. They’re looking forward to their official wedding this summer.
"We were supposed to get married in South Korea last year," says Sharon, "but due to the pandemic, we did a Zoom wedding. It felt like a fake wedding because I didn't even have a wedding dress, and there was no real officiant. But it ended up being a really heartwarming experience."
Sharon and Arnold research their route to meet Joshua and Seoun in Colorado.
MEETING IN THE MIDDLE
As the vaccine rollout commenced in early 2021, it became clear to Sharon and Joshua that seeing each other was a priority. After all, it had been nearly two years since they last saw each other. While restrictions across the country were lifting, the siblings wanted to find a safe way to reunite – a classic American road trip.
After selecting a week in May, the siblings decided to road trip to a mid-point in the middle of the US, allowing them not only to see each other, but also the beauty of America’s landscapes. With Sharon departing from Los Angeles and Joshua leaving from Atlanta, the pair settled on reuniting in the mountains of Colorado just outside of Boulder with their spouses. The trek for both would be vastly different than any road trip they had taken in the past.
“The main difference between American road trips and Korean ones is the scale,” says Sharon. “Distance in Korea is very, very small – probably smaller than New Jersey. Whereas the United States can take you days or even months to see the whole country.”
The highlight of the road trip wouldn’t only be the ability for the siblings to see each other, but for Sharon to meet her new soon-to-be sister-in-law Seoun.
“Getting on this road trip to meet my new family member will be really gratifying and satisfying,” adds Sharon.
As May rolled around, Sharon and Joshua packed up their respective cars to make the journey to Colorado. Because of work commitments, Sharon’s fiancé Arnold planned to fly to Denver to meet up with the group upon their arrival in Colorado. In his place, Sharon’s neighbors and close friends, Doori and Caleb, joined her on the road trip.
Joshua and Seoun explore the Parthenon in Nashville.
Leaving a day before Sharon due to the extra mileage, Joshua and Seoun began their road trip to Colorado by driving toward Nashville. Heading up I-75 and I-24, they made stops at Lookout Mountain and Burgess Falls in Tennessee. Joshua and Seoun recommend Burgess Falls to all road trippers.
"It was the biggest falls we've ever seen," says Joshua. "You could see the rainbows, and it floored me.
After exploring Burgess Falls, the couple made it to their first overnight stop in Nashville – visiting the initially overwhelming Broadway strip.
“[Broadway] was really crowded, loud and shiny,” says Joshua. “What was crazy was that there was this river right next to Broadway. On one side of the street, it would be all flashy and really noisy and lively. But then on the other side, it’s quiet with the river flowing. It’s just a really unique experience.”
Joshua and Seoun’s next travel day started with a memorable breakfast at Steadfast Coffee in Nashville.
“Seoun said it’s the best blueberry muffin she’s ever had,” says Joshua.
The couple headed up I-24 and I-64 toward St. Louis, making a stop at the Superman statue in Metropolis, Illinois, before being greeted by the famous Gateway Arch along the Mississippi River in St. Louis.
“Seeing the Gateway Arch was pretty memorable,” says Joshua. “They say it’s the gateway to the west, which applies to us since that’s exactly what we’re doing to meet Sharon.”
As the couple drove through the rolling hills of Illinois and Missouri, they were impressed by the view.
“The scenery has been surprisingly green with a lot of trees,” says Joshua. “In Korea, we aren’t able to see a view of the sky this big.”
After stops in Kansas City for a memorable barbeque lunch as they traveled across I-70, Joshua and Seoun pressed toward the Colorado border with their GPS set for the mountains.
Sharon, Caleb, and Doori pose for a photo at Seven Magic Mountains in Nevada.
LEAVING LOS ANGELES
On their own path to meet in the middle of the country, Sharon, Doori, and Caleb journeyed east toward toward Las Vegas via portions of Route 66 and I-15, exploring classic stops along the iconic American routes.
“Arnold was bummed he couldn’t join us,” says Sharon, but the group made sure to keep him included on elements of the road trip by sending him photos of their stops along the way.
The group’s first stop was Elmer Long’s Bottle Tree Ranch in Oro Grande, California.
"I'll be honest," says Sharon. "From the outside, it just kind of looked like a junkyard. But when we went inside, it was pretty cool because there were all these antiques like rotary phones, old typewriters, and a run-down jeep."
The group quickly grabbed a photo in the jeep with the help of a stranger and sent the photo to Joshua and Seoun so they could partake in the group’s adventure from the west coast.
From Oro Grande, Sharon's group visited the Calico ghost town. The afternoon Mojave Desert heat made the visit to the former mining town toasty. Shortly after, they stopped by another Route 66 attraction, the world's largest thermometer, which read 99 degrees during their stop.
Their last stop on the way to Las Vegas was at the famed Seven Magic Mountains art installation. Designed by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone. What was meant to be a short-term art installation in the desert has become a favorite stop by influencers and photographers, with a poetic burst of color appearing in the middle of nowhere. The group shared a quick FaceTime with Joshua and Seoun, before heading to Las Vegas for the night.
But even after several stops in Utah to explore stunning giant canyons and beautiful views, Sharon, Doori, and Caleb were excited to finally see the mountains of Colorado.
“When we finally saw the ‘Welcome to Colorado’ sign, it was like Hallelujah!” says Sharon. “It’s weird because none of us have been to Colorado, but we felt like we were finally here.”
After a quick stop at Denver International Airport to pick up Sharon's fiancé Arnold, the group began the final leg of their road trip – heading into the mountains to their cabin in the woods where Joshua and Seoun would shortly join them.
While the drive into the mountains would typically be relatively easy, there was one unexpected complication – a rare May winter storm. While only eight to fourteen inches of snow were expected at the cabin, the dirt roads running along a mountain stream and up a steep incline on the final approach were relatively clear.
Joshua and Sharon embrace for the first time in more than two years at a cabin outside of Boulder, Colorado.
REUNITED AND IT FEELS SO GOOD
As Sharon, Arnold, Doori, and Caleb unpacked their SUV at the cabin, they eagerly awaited the arrival of Joshua and Seoun. Snow continued to fall outside and accumulate on the deck, which still had pots of spring flowers in bloom. Finally, the sight Sharon had been waiting for over the past two years became reality – her brother’s car rounded the corner and drove up the narrow dirt mountain toward the cabin.
As Joshua and Seoun exited their car at the cabin, they were greeted with a rousing "hey!" from the group gathered on the cabin's deck. Sharon, Arnold, Doori, and Caleb waited with anticipation as the couple climbed the cabin stairs. Soon, hugs, smiles, and plenty of catching up took place as the light snow continued to fall.
“Sharon is still Sharon,” says Joshua. “It’s weird to see her in 3D instead of on a 2D electronic screen.”
“Joshua looks a little different,” says Sharon. “Since he married Seoun, they kind of dress similarly. I can see he got a haircut, too. I’ve never seen him with this kind of haircut. Joshua and Seoun look beautiful together.”
Despite the differing opinions on Joshua's haircut, there was one thing that both siblings can agree on – their road trip across the country to meet in the middle brought them closer together after two long years apart and made their bond stronger.
“I feel like it’s the beginning of a new kind of family reunion,” says Sharon. “I think it’s really important in Korean culture to have family and friends around you. I can’t wait to get to know Seoun and for her to get to know the people I love.”
“I’m really happy that everyone is here together,” says Joshua. “Every year we can make it a tradition.”