On June 29th, I woke up at 4:30am with an alarm (a second apology to my roommate, Cynthia, who woke up with me even though she didn’t need to!). I took a shower, packed my things, and then Cynthia and I headed down to the lounge. We all had our matching NSLI-Y t-shirts on and it was a pretty awesome feeling. Everyone was hanging out for a while- showing off their suitcase sets (I am not kidding) and using the wifi to update friends/family or blogs (something I definitely didn’t do XD).
We all waited outside for the bus that would take us to the airport, for a pretty long time. It was funny to see how excited everyone would get when a bus came into view, and then when it wasn’t ours-how sad everyone got. We also took some pretty great group photos in front of the library. I will never underestimate taking photos of big groups ever again!
Check-in at the airport took quite a while because no one was paying attention to their name being called. Our Korean resident director JT was becoming so stressed trying to collect everyone and get them through the bag check. The airport employees were also pretty rude to us. It was hard for everyone to stay together being such a big group but eventually we got everyone to security which also happened to be the longest security line I have ever gone through! I passed the time talking to Mckenzie and Sofia and messaging my penpal (Our American RD Madeline got us penpals from the school she taught English at). I have never been out of the country so I had yet to experience such security lines.
After Security, we were given an hour to buy breakfast and snacks for the long plane ride to South Korea. I bought breakfast at Starbucks (A blueberry muffin) and didn’t buy any snacks which I’m glad I did since we were fed so often on the plane.
It was really an unbelievable amount of food. For dinner I ordered 비빔밥 or bibimbap (Korean dish with steamed white rice, cooked vegetables, and meat. Also, a spicy pepper paste for the spice factor. I put the entire little squeeze bottle in mine and I also kept the bottle as a souvenir).
We were also given pretzels, peanuts, an ice-cream sandwich, egg muffin, strawberry yogurt, and a KitKat Bar. The plane ride wasn’t too bad. I slept a lot but definitely not as much as I thought I would. I watched three movies on the plane (Zootopia, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Bakuman) and updated my journal. I was not uncomfortable on the plane like I had been on the flight to Seattle so that was a giant plus. On the plane I sat next to Sofia and when you sit next to someone for 10 hours, you get close real quick! We became the best of friends so quickly-it was crazy. We talked about our bucket lists and just informing each other about various details in our lives. In the beginning of the plane ride, I couldn’t sleep so I was awarded this position where I would wake up Sofia whenever we were given food or something extra (like a hot towel).
Getting off the plane and walking into Incheon Airport was honestly such a surreal experience. We were immediately greeted by a sign that said Welcome to Korea!
I had seen Incheon International Airport in several Korean dramas before arriving. So seeing it for the first time in person… well, lets just say I was pretty much jumping up and down in awe. If the airport was cool looking, I could not imagine what the rest of Korea looked like. And even though everyone else was also really excited for what was to come… we still had to take a group bathroom trip and roll call. (Everyone has a number and we count from 1 to 49. I was 39).
After we got all that very important stuff out of the way, we went through immigration, picked up our checked bags and made our way through the airport to the pick up area. Coming from Illinois, my school is not diverse at all. Seeing a whole sea of Koreans all around me was very weird at first (and the stares didn’t help very much either).
After our group picture, we split up into two buses by last name. And these buses that we took to our hostel were pretty amazing. They looked like what I imagine party buses from 10 years ago would look like. The bus had decorations, curtains, and cool seat patterns. I had never ridden in a bus like that before.
I sat next to Sofia once again and we basically spent the whole bus ride looking out the window and reading out all the signs in hangul and seeing if we could understand what each store was. Seeing all the stores with names that weren’t in English… was such a weird thing to get used to.
Eventually we arrived at the hostel and we stayed at the Seoul International Youth Hostel.
I brought my bags up to the room I was sharing with 7 other girls (Rhea, Jane, Jessica, Jodi, Angie, Maris, and Grace). We were also only given one room key for the 8 of us and so I got locked out quite a bit (but it was honestly part of the experience. Figuring out who was in the room last was always a fun mystery to solve).
After we got our room situations figured out, we all had our very first meal in Seoul, South Korea! I imagine that the food we ate was what Korean high school students eat at school. It was honestly very good and some of the stuff I had there, I never had again anywhere else (Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of like anything I ate while being in the hostel). I was super afraid of my chopstick skills before I ate dinner (especially since I have never eaten with metal chopsticks). However, I did just fine and I don’t use them 100% correctly but… I can still eat perfectly fine! haha The 아줌마 that ran the dishes part of the kitchen was so sweet to me even when I didn’t know where to place the utensils and my water cup. She was also very happy that I finished everything on my plate (아줌마 is a respectful word to use when addressing a Korean woman who is a little bit older and at a married age).
Nothing was planned for our first night at the hostel for the obvious reason that everyone was super tired and moody as well as super happy go lucky and not in the mood to sit and listen to presentations all day. After dinner most of the Nsliyians (including me) went up to the rooftop garden of the hostel. Some people played cards under this gazebo type thing but Sofia, Rhea, Mckenzie, Teresa, and I sat at some tables and enjoyed the night view of Seoul. The hostel is located really close to Myeongdong so we were able to see Namsan Tower and in the distance we also saw some traditional Korean houses. Very pretty.
Then some Korean middle schoolers/high schoolers (I think it was a mix) showed up and everyone surrounded them (just like they did with the Japanese students in Seattle) and tried speaking in Korean. Only a few kids actually succeeded, but it was pretty funny seeing everyone trying. We even set up a yoga class and some of the Korean students joined in. (Shout out to Vinzent- the best yoga instructor ever!!~)
After the nice exercise of doing a few yoga poses with Vinzent, Sofia, Cynthia, Sura, and I went back to the hostel and started exploring it by getting in the elevator and stopping at each floor. We started at the second floor which turned out to be the ultimate jackpot! The second floor had a cultural center (made for kids but whatever). There were tables and couches and lots of shelves with books (all in Korean).
Korean children books are VERY difficult! I personally feel that some chapter books can be easier to read than children books. So Cynthia, Sofia, and practiced our Korean skills while reading children books.
The cultural center also had this giant sneaker with broken and old toys glued onto it with hot glue I presume. There was also a costume center in the back and Sura and I had a pretty amazing photoshoot but the photos are too cringey to share to be honest.
At 9pm I went back up to my room and literally fell asleep at 9:30pm since I was so exhausted from the whole day but nonetheless it was really really fun.
And that was my first day in Seoul, South Korea! Hope you enjoyed reading~ Next post will be about the REAL part of my in-country orientation. Spoiler Alert: More presentations and more matching shirts! haha
- Emma 엠마