Almost exactly 7 years ago today, I arrived in South Korea, to start what ended up being a 6-month long adventure. I made tons of new friends and had tons of good experiences, along with a handful of bad ones.
My neighborhood in Daegu South Korea Fall 2008
On Monday, August 25th, around 5 pm flight 038, from Chicago landed at Incheon International Airport. A few minutes later I was one of many people filing off the plan, into what was now a busy airport terminal. After the bathroom stop, it was off to immigration/customs, to get myself approved to enter South Korea. I waited in line for a few minutes, looking at all the people who were standing around waiting, just like me. They were from many different parts of the world, but I couldn’t tell who was from where. I guess when you become part of a mass, everyone just blends in. After a while it was my turn, I handed the man my paper, he looked at a few things, stamped the appropriate documents and waved me on.
The next thing I needed to do was find my luggage. I looked what I assumed was the information board to tell me which carousel my luggage would be at. It did, I went down the stairs and waited for my suitcases to appear. The luggage area was pretty crowded, but I managed to make my way through the crowd with a cart to put my bags on. My luggage showed up one at a time. First it was my blue duffel bag, then the teal suitcase. With my bags now on the cart, I was ready to go. Now I need to exchange some money; I had not been able to do this yet. So on my way out to the lobby and the cars I stopped at one of the exchange booths and handed them $250. They took it and gave me the proper amount of Korean Won back. I was now ready to follow the instructions on my sheet.
The sheet I had was from the program coordinators at the office in Chicago and Daegu. The first step on the list was to call one of the contacts, to do that I needed to find a phone. I walked around the lobby for a little bit until I found one. Then, I looked at the new money I had received and made a guess as to how much I would need to place this call. I put the money in and dialed the number, it rang, and a man answered. “Hello,” I said. “My name is Lesley Scott; I am calling to let you know that I have landed and am ready to go to the hotel.” The man on the other end told me to get on a bus and take into the City Air Terminal is Seoul. He also told me that it would take a while to get there. Before he hung up, and I went to find the bus he told me to call when I got into the hotel, so they knew I made it. It was outside to buy a bus ticket and find the right bus.
I stepped outside, and my jaw almost dropped, there were so many people, how in the world was I supposed to move through all these people with my luggage. I decided that it was better if I just moved forward and did what I needed to do. I looked around me; I didn’t see a ticket booth. So I turned to my right and started to walk. I navigated my way through people until I got to the nearest ticket booth. Once I was there I told the lady where I wanted to go; she told me the price, and I handed her the money. She told me to go to stop 3 or 10….. I was currently around stop 6 or 7. Either way I had to navigate through lots of people again…. I was not excited by this idea. I turned back the way I came; I was heading to stop 3. It took some work to make my way through the mass of people, but I managed. Finally, I made my way to bus stop 3, now all I had to do was wait.
After a few minutes, the bus showed up, and men started to load luggage in the side of the bus. I handed them three pieces of luggage and got three tickets back. With my luggage safely stored in the luggage hold, I climbed onto the bus. I was not excited to be sitting again, seeing as I had already been sitting for at least 16 hours, but I wasn’t done with my travel yet. I took a seat by a window, took out my iPod, put on the headphones, and started the music. After a few more minutes, the bus was on its way. I hoped the bus ride wouldn’t be long, I was tired, hungry and in desperate need of a shower – I started my travels around 7 am on August 24 EST and it was now about 5:30 or 6 on August 25 Korean time. I looked out the window as we exited the airport and merged onto the highway. For what I could tell highways in Korea seemed like highways everywhere else, there were cars on them and depending on the location there were trees and grass or buildings. As we continued on our way I began to realize just how tired I was, the highway and Korean landscape began to fade in and out until there was nothing. The next thing I knew it was dark out and we were in the middle of a bustling city; I had made it to Seoul.
As I looked around more at Seoul through the bus the window the more, I thought all big cities look alike. Okay, so the signs were in a different language, but there were still lots of tall buildings, lights, and people. As the bus turned into the Terminal I noticed a Bennigan’s and smiled, maybe I would find a few of the comforts of home, or rather America in this foreign land. As I thought about food, which seems normal at 7:30 at night, the bus turned a corner and went into a dark garage, then pulled up to a glass door. There were people waiting behind the door; I doubted that there was anyone waiting for me. Once the bus stopped people started to get off. I slowly gathered my things, climbed off the bus, and waited in line to get my bags. Once I got my bags I went through the glass door into a lobby, from there I found another door that lead me to the street, and hopefully a taxi that would take me to the hotel. When I got outside, there were a few normal taxis as well as the black and red taxis that I was told to take. I went up the first cab drive with the red and black van and told the man I need to go to the Seoul Residence, he nodded opened the door for me and put my bags in the trunk. With myself and my bags away he took me to the hotel. The five-minute trip consisted of a few turns and on the busy streets but ended with a turn into a quiet ally. I looked around, it didn’t seem like much, and I wondered if I was in the right spot, but the sign above the door said this was the place. I paid the drive, and he took my luggage out of the trunk and put it on a trolley then drove away.
I walked into the lobby pulling the trolley along behind me; there was a small wooden desk and white tile floors and white wall, this was certainly a hotel. I went up to the desk and gave the attendant my name and told them that I was with EPIK. She nodded knowingly and asked for my passport, I handed it over, and her male counterpart made a copy of it as she told me my room number. It was also at that point in time I found out I had a roommate…. a roommate, “wonderful” I thought sarcastically, I was too tired to want to deal with people. I was handed the phone and told that I should tell my roommate I was here. I introduced myself to the female on the other end and told her I was on my way up, she said the door would be open. The attendant handed me my passport and was directed to the elevator. I got in and went up to the second floor. When I stepped off the elevator, I saw a door propped open; this had to be it. I walked over to the door, trolley in tow. I opened the door wider and said hello, “hello” a voice responded, “are you, Lesley?” “Yes,” I replied as I grabbed one of my bags and brought it into the room, to see an Asian female about my age brushing what looked like wet hair. She smiled and nodded at me as I grabbed the rest of my bags and put them in a corner. With all of my stuff in the room, I wanted to fall asleep, but I had to return the trolley, “I’ll be right back.” I said as I left the room again. I loaded the trolley back onto the elevator, went downstairs, took the trolley into the lobby, and headed back up to my room. I opened the again propped open door and entered the room, closing the door behind me.
The first thing I noticed about the room, now that I had time to examine the scene, was the small tiled area that had a pair of shoes and the step up that had sandals with the hotel logo on it. I took off my shoes and stepped up into the rest of the room, deciding to pass on the sandals. To my right was a little mini kitchen, there was a sink, a microwave, a burner, and some dishes. To my left there was the bathroom, I noted it, I would need to visit that place soon. In front of me was a window that I assumed looked over the ally I had come in on. To the right was a TV and a table, to the left were two beds, on one of the beds, was the female I had met a few moments before. I said hello again and asked her when she got in, she told me she had gotten in about an hour ago. She and I started to chat; she told me where she was from, and I did the same. I asked her if she knew what was happening tomorrow. She told me that she thought we had to leave around 9 and that we had a free breakfast that we could get any time after 7 am. At that point I remembered I needed to call someone to let them know I was at the hotel, “did you call Ben to tell him you were here yet?” I asked. She shook her head, and I got up and went over to the phone. I picked up the receiver and dialed the number again, it rang, and the same man answered. I told him that my roommate and I were safe at the hotel and that we wanted to double-check the plans for tomorrow. He told me to be downstairs at 9 am with all of our stuff and there would be a bus waiting to take us to orientation, I thanked him and hung up.
With all of the business out-of-the-way, I chatted more with my new companion. During that time, I found out that we had been on the same flight from Chicago though I don’t remember seeing her, and she got here before I did. I guess she just got things done more efficiently than I had at the airport. Around 8 pm or 9 pm she went to bed, and I decided that I should probably email my family and let them know I was safe. I pulled out my shiny new computer, placed it on the desk, turned it on and hooked it up to the internet. Once the computer was on, I checked my email and sent out two mass emails; one to my friends and one to my family. The one to my friends simply said that I made it; I hoped they were well, and I would write soon. The one to my family said much the same thing; I had made it safe and sound, I was tired, that I would be heading to orientation tomorrow, that I missed them, hoped they were well, and I would be in touch again soon. With the emails sent I decided it was time for bed; I was too tired to shower, and I was too tired to eat, not to mention my companion was fast asleep. I turned off my computer and got ready for bed. Finally, the day had come to an end, I double-checked that the door was locked, and the lights were out and crawled into bed.
A pretty plant I found on my first outing in Daegu, South Korea Fall 2008