As you may have noticed from my fancy countdown box in the sidebar, I am back home in Los Angeles as of yesterday. It was a really bittersweet departure (let’s just say I didn’t really feel like leaving), but I must say, I’m loving every minute at home.
Before I left, I started thinking about my best (and worst) moments in Korea. That, combined with a relatively recent post by Elise, a former college study abroad advisor, reminded me of the phases of travel. (Phases aren’t just for whiny toddlers and hormonal adolescents. Cranky travelers go through them too.)
This is exactly the kind of thing our study abroad office tried to prepare us for. You know, on the “tips for studying abroad” sheet I received when I got my grant to spend my summer in Seoul learning Korean.
Since I didn’t read it (they teach you to skim in college), I can’t tell you exactly what it said, but I do recall it mentioning things like “culture shock” and the “honeymoon stage”.
Luckily for me, as a “gyopo” (foreigner of Korean descent, often Korean-American), I didn’t experience much culture shock. It was all very familiar, so I assimilated to life as a Seoulite very quickly. However, in that short transition period, I skipped the honeymoon stage entirely and found myself in the hostility stage right away.
My first week in Seoul was…not the best. It was when I felt most alone, and the worst part was that I hadn’t yet discovered how to be happy on my own. On top of that, I had tripped down the stairs my second day there and was stuck icing and elevating my foot in my tiny, hot room. Not being able to walk places and explore the city was a huge downer. I felt like a lonely, overheated klutz, and I hated it.
Since I was living in the hasookjip (boarding house) at the time, making friends was also a challenge. I didn’t meet anyone until my first day of class, six days after I arrived. Eventually (two weeks in, to be exact), I moved into the dorms, and that was largely motivated by my desire to meet new people and make more friends.
My hostile phase passed soon enough, and I was enjoying life in Korea immensely by the second week. The remainder of my stay was positively brilliant – I explored a lot of the city, took two trips down south, made some good friends, and wrote a ton of blog posts (this is my 58th!). You could say my honeymoon stage lasted 9 weeks.
I’d say my last two weeks were the real honeymoon stage, though. Once I realized my stay in Korea was winding down, I set out to finish my list before I left. I made it to almost everywhere I wanted to go — notable exceptions are Jeju Island, the DMZ, and a Korean baseball game. My stay was full of great food, people, and places; I don’t have a single regret.
When it finally came time to leave, I didn’t want to go. Just when I felt settled and like I belonged in Korea, my time was up. But, as a friend told me a while back, knowing your time in a place is limited helps you appreciate and enjoy it more. I loved my time in Seoul, and I know I’ll be back.
As great a time as I had, there’s really no place like home. Although I wasn’t homesick, I did miss my family and friends (from Chicago and LA) at times and made it a point to keep in touch. My time in LA is short (only 3 weeks!), so I’m looking forward to spending it with my loved ones. I’ll be reliving some of my not-yet-blogged Korean adventures as well, so keep an eye out!
And it’s hard to believe, but Seoul was only Part 1. Let the countdown to Rome begin! I guess it’s time to start learning Italian…