Landing in Korea: the cultural explosion

Okay, so last time I took you with me on my two day journey  from Zagreb to Seoul. This time I will tell you how it feels to actually be there. This will not be a travel writer’s guide to Seoul (it will come later, I promise), but rather a preparation for what you might feel when you come to live to Korea. Or at least, how were my first impression of a new life in Korea.

Inside of Incheon airport; photo taken with my old phone

Inside of Incheon airport; photo taken with my old phone

I think it was evening when I arrived at Incheon Airport, but who knows. I was completely lost with all the traveling, time difference and general drowsiness. It was two years ago, but I remember most of the things very clear. The things I forgot are the ones I couldn’t comprehend…it’s a very strange feeling, to be so far and in a new culture.

After all the flying I felt like I cloned myself in ten new persons and each and every one of them was doing different things and giving me more things to worry about.

I was walking around with my carry-on like a robot, trying to find my check-in luggage. I didn’t understand anything, I don’t know how I crossed the Immigration office (I guessed I just showed my student visa, but who knows), I was just following other people and trying to grasp where am I and how does all this works. When I finally got to the baggage claim, I experienced ten most terrible minutes of the day- the ones that make you believe your luggage is lost for good and you will have to survive four months with just your carry-on.

Then, the most miraculous thing happen: I found my luggage! Unfortunately, I couldn’t reach for it (super heavy) and I was trying to ask for help but no one could understand me. English? NO!

Now, a little fairytale entry (but totally real) : some boy who saw my worried face approached to me and offered for help. I was so slow with thinking that I couldn’t explain what I needed and where I am from. Turned out, he was from Hungary and offered me his cell-phone so I could call to the students from my University who were supposed to be waiting for me. The story with him is actually one of the most incredible ones :

After this call, I said goodbye to him and was concentrated on getting out of the airport.  Four months later when I was going back home,

who do you think I met in Qatar when I was transferring my flights? 🙂

Yes, from all the people in the world, all the possible flights in all the possible directions, I met the same boy on my flight 4 months later. And I didn’t even take his name, his flight or knew anything about him after my first arrival in Seoul.

The God of Travelers strikes again!

Now,  fast-forward to my very first cultural shocks in Asia:

  • No one understands you. Sorry, but it is true. Well, I guess someone might understand you but you are going to have to search for them really hard. Prepare for it. I approached to the International Office and asked for a terminal number-something. “No…no English” followed by a scared look. Perfect. Though things recently might have changed for the better due to the increasing number of tourists, I am advising you to prepare for the worse and develop your best hand and face gestures.
  • No one can really help you. I had a Chinese student who was supposed to meet me and get me to Gwangju (south of Korea, 4 hours from Seoul) but his English and guiding skills were so terrible that we missed the last bus for Seoul and had to spend a night at the airport. Yes, one more tired night. Now when I think about this, probably I would go easier on him if all that happened in some other circumstances, but at that time I was so tired and angry from the whole situation that I felt like I was in some kind of  ball; I am being kicked all around, twirling, going upside-down and just being so unable to solve anything.
  • It’s loud, it’s chaotic, it’s hard. Yes, everything was so confusing and the only people with me were this male Chinese student who wasn’t helpful at all and two Chinese girls who also came for an exchange and who kept telling to me “You tall! You basketball? You tall! You model?” and my favourite “You Twilight! You  Britney Spears! You  white!”. What a fun that was 🙄
    By the next day I became friends with them because in these situations you need a person next to you, even if you can’t speak with them and they are laughing at everything you say, do or even the way you look.
  • And finally, what you should remember: it will all be worth it.

Yes, it’s insane, mesmerizing and you are feeling deaf and anesthetized. But things get better. This was just one more “vatreno krstenje” and I am convinced that I needed it because after that I was so much stronger and so much more ready for other challenges.

And yes, I needed to share this other side of traveling with you so you can be prepared for what might happen, but now is definitely time to introduce you to dear Korea. I thing you deserve to see how all this was worth experiencing even for spending one week there. And four months…well, it paid off ten times!

Love,

-Tina

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