On Dec. 23 last year, a group of South Korean tourists became stranded in Buffalo, New York, during a heavy blizzard on their way to Niagara Falls. Their van got stuck in the snow, so two of them knocked on the door of a nearby house to ask for shovels to dig the vehicle out of a ditch.
That was the home of Alexander Campagna and his wife Andrea, who had planned for a quiet Christmas weekend indoors, with a stocked fridge to wait out the snowstorm. The couple invited the nine travelers plus the driver in as house guests, and they stayed for two nights and three days sharing stories, cooking Korean food and watching American football.
Their story, told by the New York Times and other US media, went viral via social media.
Fast forward to May, the warm-hearted couple are now in Seoul for a 10-day tour of South Korea. They have also reunited with their guests from that unforgettable Christmas.
“To see everyone in Korea again is such a blessing,” Andrea told reporters in Seoul on Sunday. She and her husband arrived here Saturday at the invitation of the Korea Tourism Organization.
“We’ve always had an appreciation and interest in Korea. They ended up in the right place at the right time,” she said. "Now we have people we can call friends for a lifetime."
Alex recalled how the Christmas with the Korean guests began.
“We’ve had snowstorms, but not to that extent. … We knew we were going to be stuck at home for many days. So when we heard the knock on our door, we wondered who would be outside in this weather,” he said.
At the door were Scott Park and the tour guide asking if they could borrow shovels, but Campagna thought that would have been “like taking a spoon to take water out of the ocean.”
Their clothes were already soaked with snow, so the couple asked the travelers to come in, made tea and coffee, and gave them warm socks and blankets.
“I got the impression that for the first couple hours, our guests thought they’ll have tea and leave. But it was impossible to get anywhere in that weather, and it was going to be time for dinner soon,” he said.
Hoping to bond, he showed the guests Korean food ingredients they had, as the couple loved Korean food, and offered the guests to feel free to have or cook anything they like.
“We were surprised to see all the Korean condiments from soy sauce and mirin to chile powder and chile paste. There was even a rice cooker and Korean cookbooks as if they had prepared all this for us,” said Park, who joined the interview.
“They made us really feel at home. After our memorable time together, I thought I should do good deeds for others too.”
Park’s wife cooked Korean dishes like jeyuk bokkeum, spicy marinated and stir-fried pork, and dakdori tang, a spicy chicken stew, which they all shared together.
“They endured the horrible storm with us. When you spend time together in a disaster situation, you feel very bonded,” Andrea said.
“By Christmas morning, people were worried and there was this somber feeling. … When the plowers started coming, people were cheering and crying.”
The couple were surprised how viral the story went.
“We were shocked at how quickly and how far the story spread,” Andrea said.
“I think with how difficult things have been with COVID, after so much sadness, pain and losses, the world was hungry for a heartwarming story. I think that’s why the story resonated with so many people.”
Alex said they received many well wishes, kind messages on social media, cards in the mail and generous gifts of appreciation from Korean groups, like a coupon for a year of free fried chicken at Genesis BBQ.
“There were many other people who helped others during the storm. We were happy to do our part,” he said.