My bags were too full, so to get through security I had to wear several jackets and stuff pants and shirts into all my pockets. At the Korean airport, my overweight suitcases spilled off my cart into the middle of a crowded walkway and people stepped over me with wayward glances. When the bus dropped me off on the dark, snow-covered street corner, I was helplessly lost until several drunk, hiccupping, middle aged Koreans carrying ski poles stumbled their way through the alleyways and led me to my hostel.
Basically, I was a hot mess. But I had made it to Korea.
The next few days were a blur of new friends, new food, new customs, and walking. By God, did we walk.
We walked to Insadong, an area that sells traditional Korean crafts and other fun items; we strolled through Myongdong, the outdoor shopping district, and popped into a cat café(!); we wandered through the traditional market in our neighborhood of Dongdaemun where they sell delicious snacks like chicken feet and silk worms; we walked up and down the avenues in search of the best street food.
I thought we had walked just about everywhere in Seoul when we climbed the mountain up to the Namsam Tower. But when we took an elevator to the top and looked out the 360 degree windows, I realized how wrong I was. The city stretched out in every direction as far as the eye can see; rolling hills and a few large rocks jutted up between a sea of skyscrapers and clustered buildings. It was overwhelming to realize just how large a city can really be—and how insignificant one person is in the midst of it all.
To refuel from all the walking, I tried a variety of Korean food and am surprised at how much I have fallen in love with it all. I honestly have not disliked a thing I’ve tried and every meal seems more delicious than the last. Between BBQ, bibimbap (rice and veggie bowls), a variety of meat and kimchi soups, dumplings, and the street food (oh my god—the street food), I have certainly not gone hungry.
Today we said goodbye to Seoul and hopped on a bus to Daejon, another city a few hours south, for orientation. The next seven days will be a whirlwind of lectures, practice teaching, learning Korean, and the occasional taekwando class.
So far, it’s been a blast. Between the sightseeing, partying til 7am, and making lots of new friends, it’s seemed more like a vacation and the reality that I live here—a country across the world—hasn’t entirely settled in, yet. I think that part will come when I arrive at my apartment and I’m suddenly alone and aware that this is my home for the next year.
Until then, I’m soaking up all the fun and exciting new experiences and slowly acquiring a taste for kimchi.
I think I’m going to like this place.