Seoul Searching 1: Transported From My Window
I’m staring out my white wooden window panel, the sky was a miserable grey. The circles were ominously circling one another, signalling rain, and the wind was crying out, warning everyone to retreat to their homes.
Within moments the grass had been submerged in water and now trickled down the steps to the patio, forming puddles of mud at the bottom. At least the grass won’t need to be watered, I thought to myself smugly.
Slowly, the puddles leaked onto the concrete squares forming a muddy chessboard. Snails slid across like pawns only to be wiped off the board by my neighbour’s cat.
Just past my garden, I could see people running through their allotments seeking shelter from the downpour. Their wellies squelched in the water leaving large craters in the soil. A series of curse words followed them home, they were infuriated about leaving early.
Finding twisted amusement in their suffering, I nuzzled myself back in bed. There’s never much to do in Norwich anyway so, unlike them, I didn’t mind being shut in. I had spent the past five years looking longingly from my window willing myself somewhere else, anywhere else, what was one more night of yearning?
Suddenly, the room turned stale, and the humidity became unbearable so I returned to the window, hoping a crack would be enough to elevate the pressure, but the scenery had changed. Silhouetted mountains now stood erect before me and the smell of wet grass filled the room. The grey sky was replaced by one of royal blue, with clouds of ember dispersed across it, glowing like the remnants of a dragon’s final breath. The final traces of sunlight. I had been transported.
Flickers of light flashed just before the mountains, like a wave, the town appeared to be waking up. The streets began to fill with tired workers eagerly waiting for their friends to join them for dinner, stomachs growling from the smell of smoked meats wafting from hidden kitchens. Children scurried across the road, carefree, chasing after a worn-down football marked with the loving scuffs from their constant play.
Along the river groups of warm eyed seniors sat, armed with copper rusted fishing rods, patiently waiting for their last trout of the day. Once caught, these fish would be barbequed for dinner, munched alongside soup and rice.
Every now and then, a car or truck would pass along the main road, shuttling people back home from their daily chaos. I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t stop and admire the beauty around them. I had stepped into a painting that only I appreciated. Everybody else was too consumed by the countless worries of their lives.
Filled with awe, at that moment, I made a vow to travel all across this new land and make the most of my time away from home for as long as I could. I would hike those mountains until my lungs screamed out; I would swim among the fish in those rivers; and, I would fly in the embers of the sky next to the birds. It was the perfect opportunity for me to grow as a person and learn more about the world.
Okay, so to be completely honest, my journey here wasn’t this magical. In reality, I took several flights, went through many mishaps, and cried twice. In fact, I had been planning my exchange year to South Korea since May 2019 and began it about this time last year.
When I first arrived, I found it difficult to adjust. I was now living alone, something I expected to love much more than I did in reality. In the past I have had problems with messy and inconsiderate flatmates, I assumed being free from flatshares would be liberating but instead, it was lonely. Despite an isolating first month, I grew to appreciate the quiet and space I had to study freely. Looking back on my time here, I view South Korea as my first taste of liberation. It is the only place I have ever been solely independent, reliant on no one and answering to no one.
I also had to adapt diet-wise. Seeing as my one-room was only equipped with a two-ring hob, I had to learn a bunch of new recipes and adjust to my lack of cooking equipment. Now, I’m proud to say, I can now cook several Korean style dishes by memory and can stomach the super spicy ramen they sell at the local GS25.
The buzz of Seoul is nothing like London. Seoul is crowded without being cramped, and while everything you could possibly need is close, it isn’t claustrophobic. People’s heads don’t get stuck in subway doors as I have seen on many occasions in London, and everybody patiently ques for transport. Everyone is courteous and orderly.
Travelling around South Korea, the country’s natural beauties constantly astound me. The trees transform shades periodically, pulsating from pink to red, yellow to green, and at night, the moonbeams with pride over the turquoise ocean. Under the arched roofs of traditional houses, lay pots of fermenting foods, triggering salivation. From the waterfalls on Jeju island to the colourful houses of Busan, I have maximised every opportunity to see and experience South Korea.
Moving here has been a wonderful, exciting, and cathartic experience. It has provided me with the freedom to reinvent myself in a new place. In the past, I have been wary and timid, afraid to take risks; however, since being here, I have slowly begun to come out of my shell. I have even managed to subdue my fear of heights and bugs!
I have experienced things I would never have previously considered had I not branched out in South Korea. Skiing, surfing, paragliding, parasailing, even bungee jumping!
That’s not to say that moving here hasn’t been challenging. Recently, my mother had surgery and for the first time since being here, I felt alienated and helpless. 5,500 miles away, there was nothing I could do except check in every few hours. Luckily, the surgery went well and she’s recovery steadily, but it still feels wrong to be so far from home when my family needs me.
Sadly, my journey is almost over, but that doesn’t mean I am ready to let go of my time here. Instead, I plan to narrate my adventures with you and explore the ways in which I have been changed by my travels.
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