I can hardly believe that I spent three months in Korea! Honestly, where did the time go? The trip has now dissolved into a mirage of hazy memories and bags of souvenirs. The months of exploring Korea, grocery shopping, working with water striders now have the greatest prominence within the pages of my blog. In a few words, I had an incredible experience in Korea, and have changed for the better because of it! However, I’d like to also share the longer version.
Before this trip I had basically zero experience abroad. I’ve been to British Colombia a few times, but I can’t really count Canada as a separate country… Sorry Canada. In fact, I had never really been away from my home state for any considerable period of time. As a result, the prospect of living abroad for three months in a country where I didn’t speak the language was incredibly daunting. Even after I contacted Sam and started the weekly meetings and preparations for summer research, I still didn’t fully believe that I would be living abroad. In fact, I didn’t fully believe that I was actually living in Korea until the plane’s wheels touched down at Inchon International Airport on May 27th. Even then, I walked around that first week in a daze. It took about a month for me to become comfortable here, and few weeks more before Sillim became home. Visiting the neighborhood market/supermarket, and occasional trips to E-Mart to buy wheat bead (only white bread is available in Korea for the most part), as well as weekend trips to cities around the peninsula, quickly settled into a comfortable routine around work and sleep. I got used to the huge crowds of Koreans hurrying down the streets and riding the subway, and the strange feeling of isolation when a language that you cannot comprehend surrounds you. Although now I understand a lot more Korean than I did when I first came here! Yay! I also adapted really well to chopsticks! This is actually one of my favorite stories from Christina and my trip to Jeju. We got a bit lost on our way to find the Hallasan Guesthouse, and were tricked by a small guesthouse in the countryside, thinking it was Hallasan. However, they had two available beds, and we ended up spending the night. This guesthouse was not like any other I had stayed at in Korea. It was very “communal.” All the guests ate together drank together, and talked late into the night. Christina and I went to bed early because we were exhausted from our 12-mile hike up to the peak of Mt. Hallasan, but we ate dinner with the rest of the Korean guests. During dinner we chatted with three of the guests, one knew English well, the second was okay, and the third spent most of the night forcing the English speaking Korean to translate for him… haha. Anyway, during dinner the English speaking Korean (I forgot his name) commented on our chopstick skills. I was called a chopstick genius. A Korean who’s name was Guy told me that it took him 10 years to get to the impressive skill level I am at with chopsticks… and I did it in a few years. However, Christina’s level of using chopsticks was compared to the level of a three year old child… haha. I laughed incredibly hard. Anyway, back to the point.
During this trip I grew as a scientist and as a person. Living independently abroad taught me more than I can put into words.
One of the most startling realizations that I came to while living in Korea is how unsafe America is in comparison. There was not a single instance in which I felt unsafe or threatened while in Seoul. Even when I may or may not have been out in the early morning… Hearing about American news, shootings in my neighborhood and what not, made me feel uneasy for the first time. I had never really given most violence in America a second thought, of course its horrible and tragic, but I grew up expecting it. All it took was three months in a country where barely anyone has a firearm (not even most police), and I had to adjust my perspective on security. I’m sure that I will quickly readjust, but feeling completely safe was a very nice experience. It’s amazing to me that people can live at such high densities and have such a low crime rate! Hopefully living in Korea didn’t mess up my danger radar and make me more vulnerable to attack haha.
Of course, I can’t overlook the research aspect of the trip! Christina and I spent a lot, a lot, a lot, of time working on our water strider research. We were essentially given full reign (with guidance) and set up each experiment, collected our “test subjects,” and planned our schedules. Experiencing such independent research was incredibly illuminating! Learning, and mastering new software was also very rewarding. I am also now an expert at poking water striders from beneath the water to instigate their jump response. (The key is to sweep beneath the water surface, not poke). This opportunity is definitely going to help me to decide what I would like to pursue for my higher education!
Other than the fact that I had to stop denying that America is fat (It’s so true, I’m sorry)… These three months abroad have made me appreciate many things about home i.e. English, but also many things in Korea. I really like the respectful culture, and I think I may have some problems when I get home with randomly bowing to others… and simply the fact that 98% of Koreans are not obnoxious. The bus and subway rides were always quiet, many people actually slept… and in a rare occurrence when a Korean would chat on the phone they would cover their mouth and speak quietly into the microphone.
Living and traveling in a foreign country, essentially alone taught me to trust myself… and Google. (I’m currently sitting on a bench in the airport waiting for my check-in time to approach. To get to the airport I took a taxi, and transferred to an Airport Limousine.) If you are willing to do the prep work, it is possible to do anything. That’s really all I have to say, other than that I am very glad that I threw myself out of my comfort zone and came to Korea!
I hope that you enjoyed my blog posts, happy reading! Peace out.