It took a long time to get here—about 20 hours, actually, between layovers in two countries. I’m 6’3″, too, so you can imagine me and my long legs cramped into one of those wonderfully spacious airplane seats.
I took note of some things while traveling, one being the sheer lack of people in Newark Liberty International Airport as my flight time drew closer. Check-in and security were a breeze. Through the empty corridors, it was very interesting to see an airport winding down for its last flight of the night—mine.
Sixteen hours later, it was 6 a.m. at Hong Kong International, a beautiful airport in a scenic area surrounded by mountains and tall buildings. If I hadn’t been lugging two large carry-ons, I would have explored the airport more.
Three hours after I left Hong Kong, I arrived at Incheon International Airport, and then headed by car to my new home for the next four months: Ewha Womans University in Sinchon, Seoul. Ewha’s campus is an architectural dream, with the Campus Complex being the first thing visible from the main gate. The concrete and glass canyon houses offices, cafeterias, cafés, a gym, a movie theatre, and more. Coming from Arcadia, this behemoth of a building being only one of many at Ewha may be something I never get used to.
Moving through the week, I attended orientations and, of course, began exploring. Seoul is a concrete jungle, at night bathed in neon, with good food at every turn. Like any big city, there’s always something different and new to do, especially as a foreigner.
A few friends and I wanted to go out into the downtown area of Sinchon for dinner one night. So the six of us, an American, a Londoner, and four French Canadians (make note of the lack of a Korean here), trekked off into the night in search of something delicious to eat. Shouldn’t be too hard right? Well as anyone who has ever been asked “What do you want for dinner?” will tell you, it can become very difficult, very quickly. Soon we were circling backstreets in Sinchon reading every multi-colored sign flashing at us. One of us decided she wanted army stew (부대찌개, Budae Jjigae), so we searched for restaurants where we could see a tabletop stove. We came across one and hustled in, out of the cold. We sat down, the side dishes were set, and the owner came to us and asked what we wanted to order as he showed us a menu sans Budae Jjigae but including various types of organs: gopchang, machang, tripe, the list went on. Luckily for our group, I had eaten gopchang the last time I was in Seoul and knew in my heart and soul that it was beyond delicious, so I forced everyone to stay and try the place out. It turned out to be amazing!
Based on my experiences thus far, I can say with certainty that the next four months here in Seoul are going to be at least something different, and at most an extreme life-altering experience that will leave me changed for the rest of my life. In the past two weeks, I have walked the streets of Sinchon at 2 a.m. under the glow of flashing lights, sat around with friends from different parts of the world in restaurants nestled in the basements of buildings with restaurants rising up to the fifth floor. Things that you only hear about from people and then question in the back of your head, “Are they lying to me? Surely it couldn’t have been that great?”—I’m living those kinds of things right now. However this four months ends, I won’t trade it for the world.