Good neighbors can expand your world and improve your quality of life

By Jan Risher for

I love a good neighbor — and have been blessed with some of the best. In three of my homes across the country and decades, I’ve been able to create amazing bonds with the children next door, down the stairs or across the street. By doing nothing more than being kind, curious and having an open heart, these kids (and their parents) taught me so much about the world, how to have fun in ways I never expected and about parenting.

The first kid neighbor I loved was a 5-year-old girl named So Yung Park. She lived downstairs from me in the now-demolished University Village Apartments at Mississippi State University. In 1984, Yung Park and her parents moved to Starkville, Mississippi, for her father to get his doctorate in agricultural economics.

Her mother had been an opera singer in Korea. In Starkville, Yung Park’s mom worked at McDonald’s sweeping the floor — she didn’t speak English well enough to take orders. One day, I arranged for her mother to sing at the local nursing home. Wearing the most beautiful hanbok I had ever seen, she and I headed to the nursing home, unable to speak a word directly to each other, but smiling continuously. Yung Park was our translator, but mostly we charaded.

For Halloween, Yung Park and I decorated a pumpkin. She could not understand what on earth we were doing or why I was pulling so much goo from a pumpkin. I did my best to explain.

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