On February, 26th 2017 I flew out of Cincinnati, Ohio at 8:30 in the morning to Detroit, Michigan where I then boarded my direct 14-hour flight to Seoul, South Korea.
Not only was this the longest time I've been on a plane, but this was only the second time I've been overseas (plus, the first time was to Ireland...does that even count?) During the months before leaving, I spent time answering questions like, "South Korea, why there?" "but you don't know the language?" "Why don't you just finish school in America?" These questions reminded me of the reason why I decided to go to South Korea in the first place...to get out of my comfort zone.
Within an hour of arriving at the Incheon Airport in Seoul, I knew that I had already achieved my goal. I was FAR outside of my comfort zone. The little Korean that I had studied during the month before I left did not prepare me for the hundreds of airport signs written in Korean, nor did it prepare me for ordering my first meal in Korea; after several minutes of trying to describe what I wanted to eat, I eventually defaulted to pointing at a picture on the menu. (This was my first valuable lesson as a traveler in a new country: always go to a restaurant with pictures on the menu.)
After being greeted by Dankook students at the airport, we took an hour-long bus ride to campus. By this time, it was late Monday night, and as much as I wanted to explore the campus, my jet-lagged body insisted that I pass out at the first sight of a bed. Despite not having sheets or a pillow, I happily slept off the jet-lag and airplane peanuts.
The next morning, we had a student orientation at 10:00 AM. By noon, I had already met some great people and had a chance to explore the campus a bit. The university I am studying at is called Dankook University (pronounced Ton-Cook) and it is located in Yongin, Korea, which is an hour outside of Seoul, and an hour or so from other cities such as Suwon.
My first few days in South Korea were a bit of a blur - partly due to Jetlag and partly due to several long days and nights of getting to know everyone in the program and enjoying Korean food and soju.
Soju (소주) is a popular Korean alcohol that tastes like a mix between cheap vodka and flavored water. Yes, It's as bad as it sounds. It may not be my drink of choice, but it is a right-of-passage for foreigners coming to live in Korea. So, for the first three days, I raised my soju-filled glass, and said "geonbae" (cheers in korean) to enjoying the next four months with great people.
I didn't meet my roommate until the second night. Normally, students are roomed with another student from the same country. Since I am the only student in the program from my home university, I assumed that I would be roomed with an American from a different university, but to my surprise, my roommate is a second-semester exchange student from France. Not only was I STOKED to be roommates with someone outside of America (sorry, America, I need a break from you,) but after a few hour-long conversations, face masks, and laughing until 2AM, I knew it was going to be a great semester. (Thank you roomate Gods!)
Everything already feels so different from the U.S., and I love it. I came to Korea knowing that the language, currency, and time zone would be different, but it's amazing how such seemingly basic differences can make a drastic impact on my experiences and encounters. For instance, the currency used here is the Korean Won. 87 cents in USD is equal to 1 Korean Won, but 1 Korean Won is actually 1,000 Won. So in other words, 1 US Dollar is equivalent to 1,000 Korean Won. Which means, a $10 meal in America, is a 10,000 won meal in Korea. You could say that I felt pretty rich for the first few days carrying around 50,000 won in my purse.
Another difference that I'm still adjusting to is the time change. The 13-hour time difference between KST (Korean Standard Time) and EST (Eastern Standard Time) was hard enough to get used to, but Korea also uses 24-hour time as opposed to AM - PM, which is something I am not used to at all. I almost missed my first class because I thought 14:00 was 4:00PM...rookie mistake.
Despite the logistical differences, the culture in Korea is vastly different from that of the U.S. From relationships to table manners - I am unlearning and relearning everything on a daily basis. I feel as though I am in kindergarten again (minus the fingerpainting and tantrums.)
My favorite part about the program, though, is not only learning about Korean people and culture but also learning about the customs and cultures of people from all around the world. The exchange program has roughly 200 students in it; some students are new this semester, like me, and others are in their second semester here. There are students in the program from all over the world, including Mexico, Germany, France, Thailand, Australia, China, Japan, Norway, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Brazil, Indonesia, Taiwan, Canada, and Malaysia. Many of the students in the program are experienced travelers and have already taught me A LOT about the world outside of America.
Being immersed in a pool of cultural differences has made me even more eager to learn more about life outside of the U.S. In fact, I'm starting to feel as though I will not end up back in the states for quite some time...there is so much more to learn and see in the world, and the more I learn, the more curious I become.
I'm 3,000 miles from home; I've only been in Korea for two weeks; I know less Korean than a three-year-old; but somehow, I already feel as though I've discovered a new type of home. It's amazing how only a couple weeks can change so much. I can't wait to continue this journey. :)
That's all I have for now. Feel free to check back here next week for my blog on the Korean protests and the impeachment of the Korean president, Park geun-hye.
See you later! Or as you would say in Korean, 안녕히 계세요. Ann young hee gasyeo!