Restless and sleepy-eyed after a 13 hour journey to head to South Korea and saying an emotional goodbye to my family, I finally arrived in South Korea. Never having travelled anywhere further than Toronto from California, stepping on to a plane with nearly 90% of the people returning to Korea was an interesting experience to say the least. I have never been faced with the simple fact that I did not belong in that confined environment among other Koreans more than I had ever had in California.
From the four or five flight attendants, to the neighboring passengers, and even the gentleman sitting next to me who was a Caucasion man who has been to Korea more than a dozen times, every single person asked and commented to me in Korean first. And when they realized I did not understand, they soon too would stop talking to me. Except the gentleman sitting next to me. A very enlightening conversation that was split up in increment of a few hours, he was kind to remind me and suggest places to explore, eat and see. He also was very kind in teaching me a few Korean phrases that I would need to expect to say when I landed and deboarded the plane. The flight was the easy part…
I stood in line for about 2 hours for immigration. Once I arrived to speak to the immigration officer, I was bombarded with numerous questions about the location, what a visa was, what my visa said, and what business I had here in Korea. While some of those questions seemed standard, I did not have a phone nor connecting wifi that would allow me to get those answers quickly to pass through immigration check point.
Between the broken Korean I was taught and broken English I had to use in hopes he’d understand, I was allowed to claim baggage.
Now, retrieving two large 50-lb bags plus a purse plus my carry on was no easy feat. I was given the wrong information to which terminal my baggage would be waiting for me. I ended up running up and down the very large and long airport terminals of Incheon International only to arrive at my destination nearly 40 minutes later. Collecting a cart and hauling my luggage on was something that took far too long than it should have. Everyone around me seemed far too preoccupied to notice I needed help and was struggling alone.
My next challenge was to now find the airport bus terminal to take me to the city I would be living in. Another 2.5 hours by car. Waiting in line to purchase a bus ticket took almost an hour. Koreans I realize do not believe in waiting. Everyone is in a hurry to hurry and get to where they need to go. Disregarding the dozens of people in front of them. As a result, while I may have been number six in line to purchase my transportation ticket, in reality I became the 50th in que. When I finally realized what was happening (people were coming from all sides and inserted themselves in front of the ticket counter), I had made it to the woman at the counter. Ticket purchased. She tells me I have ten minutes to cross the international airport terminal to go to the other side because the bus driver was getting ready to depart the airport. I still needed to make a phone call at a payphone to my school director to let him know I will be getting on the bus and will see him upon arrival. Payphones are not easily accessible at the time of my arrival as every station I went to only accepted a credit card. Unfortunately, my American one, did not work. I should also mention that the payphones are much like the ones home, unavailable. Almost everyone and their four year old children have their own cell phones. Being a foreigner and not having an updated phone for an international sim card to fit and be pre purchased before departing California, I was in some trouble trying to locate a telephone.
Emotionally and physically exhausted and overrun and with now only 5 minutes to make it across the terminal, I approached a woman at a cell phone counter and tried to explain my situation in tears. I suppose she felt sorry for me because instead of interrupting me and trying to understand what I was saying, she handed me her phone to make the call. (Thank you, kind Samaritan!)
The 2.5 traveling hours to the bus stop where Jason, my director came and went. Between the bus drivers outbursts to no one in particular about being off schedule because of the all of the “foreigners taking too long to load their belongings” to him asking his wife to have cold beer and hard liquor waiting for him when he got home, I found myself in a bus full of people who for the most part did not seem to be phased by this man racing down the highways of South Korea. With every turn and bump and honk, I gripped my belt buckle harder and hard, knuckles white and praying I make it alive when we stopped.
I managed to meet Jason and he proceeded to take me to my hotel where I would be staying before moving in to my apartment.
On Hotel Row of what I found out to be “Love Motels,” was quite interesting. My toilet seats heated up, there are no shower doors, nor curtains in bathrooms of Korea. You are lucky to have a tub to step into when taking a shower rather than taking one next to your toilet and sink. I was lucky. My floor were heated, and best of all, each room was designated free wifi. Communication to home, Hallelujah! I arrived on a Thursday night and with all my power in wanting to sleep, I ended up staying up until about 4 am and woke up at 7. I was to meet Jason and the other new teacher to get a physical and some blood work done to ensure I was not carrying anything from home to the people of Korea.
Friday was a blur, I got to see the school and a bit around the area. It seemed bustling which was a relief as a friend of mine is in the countryside where there are not many lights lit up or stores opened.
Friday was welcome day for new students and parents. From 9:30-7:00pm it was a lot of “we’d like to welcome you to our school, here are our newest teachers…” and our self-introductions (in English) to the students and parents. It was also the last day of the semester for the existing students which meant food parties. And off we went back to our hotels to hopefully catch up on our sleep and spend the weekend exploring a little bit.
Most of the weekend went by similarly. Get up earlier than anyone at the local convenience stores, make a few phone calls back home, become emotional and allow to sink in that I am no longer in Kansas, toto! And walk around the “less than equipped” area for “things to do.”
It wasn’t until Saturday early morning I saw this text:
“My Daughter, how was the flight and trip so far? We miss you already and it’s only been a couple of days, but home isn’t the same without you here. You must be exhausted by now, but you are almost there. Stay strong. I hope reading these texts will be pleasant for you when you land and get to your final destination. I hope it brings a little bit of home in a new place. Sleep well, chat soon!.”
At 30, I had never thought those words would make me crumble and bring me to the five year-old girl who once couldn’t move on to the first grade for a week from because mom wasn’t there half way through the day to assure me that the new surrounding and friends would be okay.
But as they say, home I where the heart is and my heart is in California. I take my friends and family with me on this new incredible journey to do something for myself and to see the world that I have always wanted to explore and learn about. When I first decided to move out of the country, it was for the benefit of molding a career path, whether that be teaching, or landing a job as an international liaison. And I suppose only time will tell what will happen. For now, as things are still new, and I am sure I will be facing with plenty more unfamiliarity’s which will create both comedic and emotional anecdotes in my life, I look forward to the personal growth I will experience by pushing myself out of my comfort zone as I celebrate adulthood going into my 30’s.