Well, I am writing to you from Suwon, South Korea, and I can hardly comprehend it! Every time I leave my apartment and walk outside, I am newly surprised at my surroundings, as if I am still expecting to see all of my old, familiar Madison, Wisconsin, landmarks.
The flight was just as terribly long and uncomfortable as I thought it would be. I passed the thirteen hours with thirteen million musings about my soon-to-be life in Korea. Where would I be living? How close would I be to the subway station? What kinds of people would I meet? How would I be perceived by the natives? And how difficult would it be to survive without a working knowledge of Korean? So many questions! But even the greatest excitement is sure to fade over the course of seven thousand miles. By the sixth hour, I was already beginning to feel bored and deflated.
Between the meals and snacks, I tried to sleep, but was largely unsuccessful, too bothered by the uncomfortable seating and the fidgety woman next to me who kept bumping into me as she moved about. I was happy, though, to be sitting in an aisle seat, with such close access to the bathroom and other facilities. I was also near to the movie screen, which featured Korean news and a few English movies with Korean subtitles.
As a whole, the service was very good. For anyone interested in visiting Korea (or visiting me!), I would recommend Korean Air, which seemed to live up to its “Excellence in Flight” slogan. Flight attendants dressed in polished Tiffany blue blouses and tan pencil skirts scurried around me. They offered regular beverage and snack services and two meals, all of which were surprisingly decent! I had the traditional Korean bibimbap for lunch–a bowl of white rice topped with seasoned vegetables, beef, and chili pepper paste. I am very slowly adjusting to Korean cuisine, but bibimbap seems to be a safe bet for beginners like me.
I got on the plane on a Thursday afternoon and got off on a Friday evening, feeling disoriented from the time change. Korea is fourteen hours ahead of Wisconsin, and so I lost a day to traveling, something that is odd to think about.
Upon landing at the Incheon airport, myself and the other UW grads from the program had some trouble finding the Gyeonggi-do Office of Education coordinator. After some confusion, I managed to spot a cab driver holding a sign with my name. “Welcome to Korea!” it said. He wasn’t able to greet me in English, but he very kindly helped me with my bags and directed me to his taxi outside. My first steps out into Korea revealed a grey, gloomy looking sky streaked with rain.
The two-hour drive to my apartment in Suwon involved a strange mix of excitement and exhaustion. I alternated between staring intently out the car window, amazed at all the sights and sounds of urban Korea, and nearly falling asleep as the soft music of Korean radio lulled me into submission. I watched bleary-eyed as the day faded into night. My Korean co-teachers, Mrs. Park Su-Kyung and Miss Lena Son of Maehyang Middle School, met me at my apartment and took me out to dinner for a traditional Korean meal. I was barely coherent.
Once my co-teachers left me, I was suddenly stricken with panic as it hit me that I was all by myself in Korea with no cell phone, no Internet and no way to contact anyone. The cell phone I used in the States does not work internationally, and I have to wait a couple of weeks before getting a new one while my foreigner registration card gets processed by my school.
I fell asleep late Friday night feeling overwhelmed. “What had I gotten myself into?!” I thought. “An entire year all alone in a foreign country with a language I do not understand and no one who understands me?” My confidence dwindled as I assessed the situation, and I dozed off in a state of sad surrender.
This morning, though, I woke up ready to give Korea another chance, this time with sunshine and good weather on my side. In the brightness of the daytime, Suwon looked less frightening, more manageable, almost friendly and nearly joyful. The city’s tourism department and local government do, after all, fondly refer to the city as “Happy Suwon,” a place that prides itself on its careful balance of old traditions and new progressivism. And after a long stroll through town today with my Korean co-teacher Lena, I was able to see what they mean. Though I got off to a bit of a rough start last night, I now feel certain that this Happy Suwon is destined to be the home of a very happy Ann.
Filed under: city life, eats, getting around, language barrier, sights | 5 Comments
Tags: adjustment, alone, communication, time change, travel