So next I started the visa process. Although it was simple, it was still a lot of effort. You basically mailed off some documents (passport, university diploma, photos, etc) off to god knows where and then you have to have an interview at the nearest Korean embassy. From there, you’re off to Seoul.
My nearest embassy was in Atlanta. The trip there was very interesting, but I think I’ll save that for another post. Long story short, I ended up hungover as balls on a 14-hour flight to Seoul. And as pleasant as Korean Air was, I think only a licensed physician could have helped me at this point. But, I digress.
This had been the longest flight I had ever been on so I was also a bit scared. This was also the first country outside America I would be travelling to. But on the other hand, I was so excited about moving to a foreign country that I completely forgot (or didn’t) research a single thing about Korea. My dad attempted to Google the food and all he came up with was kimchi and a fish market. But someone mentioned there was Subway and MacDonald’s, so I figured I’d be OK. Keep in mind that when I say I did no research, I mean NOTHING. Not the weather, not the culture, not the cuisine (minus the aforementioned Googling my dad did), literally ZERO. So I had not a clue what to expect. I did, however, discover a sorority sister of mine was already living in Seoul. That was the only thing that gave me a little bit of comfort.
I stepped off the plane in Seoul and thought: WHAT. THE. FUCK. Where do I go? Whom am I meant to be meeting? I probably should have asked before getting on the plane, but my hung over self didn’t even think to. I kinda stood there awkwardly for a little while until I saw a small Korean man holding a sign with my name. He spoke no English but motioned for me to follow him. Was he a murderer or a rapist? Prob’s not, but I was still nervous to follow him. He brought me to a van and handed me a phone with someone on the other end. It was my new boss who assured me I was not about to be killed or kidnapped, but to be brought to my new home.
Like all airports, the main one for Seoul was located outside the city. So we drove for a while and all I could see was rice fields and mountains. I started to cry. And I couldn’t stop. WHAT THE FUCK HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO? Where was McDonald’s? Where were the people? Was I actually going to be working on a farm?
After what seemed like days in the car, and still no sign of a city, we arrived at my ‘apartment building’. (Side note: In Korea when apartments and businesses are in the same building it’s called an ‘officetel’. So from now on, that’s what I’ll be calling them) My new boss, Abraham, was there to greet me. He seemed nice enough, but if you’re looking for a villain in this story, it’s him. But I’ll get to that part later. He showed me in and around the apartment and said he’ll be picking me up the next day to go shopping for household stuff. Then he left. And I thought to myself, what the fuck am I supposed to do now? I attempted to explore my new neighbourhood, but was still so hung over and scared to go too far. But as luck would have it, there was a pizza parlour in my officetel. This could be deadly in the long run, but I was hung over (have I mentioned that already?) so hello pizza! I went in, found a picture menu and pointed to what I thought was a plain cheese pizza. Koreans put some weird shit on their pizzas so I assumed cheese was my safest option.
I got back to my place, opened the box of pizza to find tiny yellow dots sprawled all over it. Corn. Yes, corn. All over my pizza that I was so looking forward to.Then it hit me. Here I was, across the globe from all my family and friends, hung over with a fucking corn pizza. Is this what my life has come to? Cue the over-dramatic tears. I plugged in my laptop right away to Skype my parents to tell them I was coming home tomorrow. But of course there was no internet as it was my first day and it hadn’t been set up. Luckily, I had brought my Blackberry (don’t judge, it was 2009 and BBs were high tech then) because like most dumb Americans, I wasn’t 100% sure there would be adequate cell phones available. Did I mention I hadn’t researched anything in Korea? (With hindsight, not something I recommend!)
If you have a crazy Jewish mother, you’ll know what I mean when I say that I thought she would overreact (just like I had), but swoop me up and get me back to Florida in no time. But no, that bitch told me to stay and stick it out. And my father agreed. With that and about 4600 tears shed, I feel asleep.
The next day Abraham arrived to pick me up to go shopping for household stuff. Was there a Bed, Bath and Beyond in Korea? Well, I was about to find out! Of course there wasn’t, but what was there was like a Korean version of Walmart called E-Mart. I’d later grow to love the place, but my first visit was terrifying. What on Earth am I meant to be getting? As mentioned earlier, I have a Jewish mother. She normally dealt with this kind of stuff. I also had no clue how to budget so like how much should I be spending on a colander or a blow dryer? I think I left the store with a sauce pot, a blanket and some cheap hangers . So I could kinda cook, stay warm at night and hang my clothes. Surely that’s all you need to survive?
After the weekend, I would start my new job as an English teacher to young children, aged 4-7. Good thing I love children…