I find it hard to believe that I have been in Seoul, South Korea for a week already. The first week was busy with trying to settle in, explore, and get ready for classes starting soon.
I feel fortunate that before I left California, I was introduced to a friend of a friend who is part of the same exchange program as me. We decided to take the same flight to Incheon airport. Although we don’t know each other very well yet, it is nice to go into a new environment and through some of the initial arrival stress with someone else.
My entry into South Korea was not the warmest: I had my check-in bag, my carry-on suitcase, and my backpack searched, drug tested, and then x-rayed at customs. During this process the customs officer gave me dirty looks and uttered “ugh American” under their breath. After that ordeal was finally over, our next task was transportation to our hotel. We got out of customs three minutes too late to catch the bus from Incheon to Seoul, so we looked for a taxi instead. It was a pleasant surprise that despite the language barrier, our driver was enthusiastically trying to converse with us by using a translation app called Papago. He would even hold the microphone button so we could speak into his phone to keep the conversation going. His genuine kindness is what I needed after a 13-hour flight and bad experience at customs.
Over the next four days I helped my friend’s friend move into her dorm, braved the Seoul subway system for my first time (tip: Naver maps is the most English friendly and useful application for directions in Seoul), explored the neighborhoods around my host university, went to a couple of aesthetic cafes (something Seoul is famous for), moved into my apartment, and bought some essentials like bedding. The experience of trying to buy household essentials when you don’t know any of the appropriate vocabulary in your host country’s language is interesting, but luckily, I was met with friendly salesclerks willing to try and figure things out together. The last two days of my first week consisted of long orientation days: one day for my exchange program and one day for my host university.
Although my first week in Seoul had its ups and downs, I have learned that experiences are what you make of them. It is stressful moving to a new country where you don’t speak the language, but as long as I can learn to be flexible, willing to embarrass myself, and practice patience (mostly with myself), then I believe that I can have an incredible and unforgettable experience here.
Classes will start in a few days, and I am looking forward to learning about this new home of mine through its history, music, and language both in- and outside of the classroom.