My first official post!
It’s interesting how long I have been preparing for study abroad and yet, even to this very minute, I feel completely unprepared for anything that I might experience while I’m here. I think every person has their own fears and doubts and some people, like me, share the fear of the unknown. However, it is best not to run from that fear, but to instead approach it head-on and gain knowledge from it. That’s why before coming abroad, I decided that I wanted to be in a situation that would surround me with Korean by applying to a host family. I arrived late in the night around 9 pm after taking an overall 16-hour flight — with only movies and books to fill that time — and during the time I spent at the Incheon airport, I learned a lot of things that were both great and inconvenient. I learned that my phone could not be used in Korea unless it was unlocked
— I would need to rely on the internet alone — and that taking the bus and the subway is much less expensive than I thought it would be. However, after arriving from the airport, I was not really able to talk much to my host family; I simply unpacked and prepared for the next day.
My whole first day, I spent it walking around, riding the bus or the subway, and going to cafes, or getting lost. So far, since being in Korea for a couple of days its amazing how the little differences like the street signs or addresses can make it so much harder to get around in Korea than what I’m used to in America.
Because of these significant differences I spent most of my first official day just walking around with another exchange student and trying to find my school and find a place to eat lunch. It was much easier earlier in the day because the other exchange student I met had already been in Korea for two months so she guided me through how to get to the bus or subway station, how to use the bus and subway and the different routes to take to school, overall it took about 30 minutes to get there, but the real trouble I had was later in the day. I had made plans to meet a few friends who also decided to study abroad this semester, so we chose a place to meet at and all headed there around 5 pm. Here’s where the trouble comes in, I didn’t have a map or any way to access one. I had come to Korea, realizing that I could not use my phone to call or text, but I also cannot use any apps without internet access. I figured it would be fine, just look at the map ahead of time right? No. I got lost and I spent about an hour trying to find the meeting place, unable to contact my friends. I finally just decided it would be best to stop somewhere with internet access to contact my friends so I found the closest café and used the internet there. Finally, one of my friends was able to meet me at the cafe, but even after that, then we learned that my other friend is actually staying an hour away. So, in the end, we decided it might be better to meet halfway. Then, once we finally arrived we found she had arrived at the subway station, not the bus stop, so we ended up having to walk to meet her. So, more than an outing with my friends for a little while, it turned out to be a day trip.
Although, from there on, we ate and had fun, chatted and laughed. The fun that we had completely erased all the stress it took to finally meet there.
If there is one thing I learned from this experience it is that Korean transportation, while being both cheap and extremely convenient, if you have not grown up using it and have no way to check where you need to go, it can be unbearably confusing and you will get lost.
The best thing to do, if your phone can be unlocked is to make sure to get a SIM card at the airport, then you can use your phone throughout your travels and there are apps to help with getting around the local area — similar to google maps — it is much more convenient. If you cannot, then rely on the vast amount of cafes in the area for internet access and use the apps on your phone to help find your way.