Why I nearly left South Korea as soon as I arrived

I’ve written quite a few posts about the anxiety and uncertainty I often feel when travelling. All of those emotions were blown out of proportion when I arrived in Seoul, South Korea, last week to begin my four-month semester abroad studying at Kyung Hee University.

When I stepped out of Incheon airport, I immediately began sweating. The air was hot and muggy. I was exhausted and jetlegged. The warnings and doubt from the Korean woman I sat next to on the plane whirled in my head. I was trying to stay positive when I checked into my dorm room and saw it was smaller than any room I had ever rented before – and I would have to share the space with another foreign student, whom I didn’t know.

main gate

I immediately began crying, called my mom and told her I was coming home.

It all sounds rather rookie, doesn’t it? You wouldn’t think a seasoned traveller of 30 countries would react in such an extreme way.

The reality is, travel is always messy, no matter how much experience you have. Usually, I would remind myself “I can always go home,” but I knew I had committed to this minuscule room for four months. I was filled with dread as I climbed into the top bunk and was swept into sleep.

A good, deep sleep can change everything – including your perspective. When I awoke, the room seemed less claustrophobic, my roommate was kind and interesting, and the university was beautiful after an evening of hard rain. I went to orientation and met a slew of Europeans keen to travel and explore, which cemented my growing realization: I would stay, and I would grow to love Korea.

group temple contrast

This initial culture shock is very common, especially for exchange students, solo travellers and anyone in a solid state of jetleg. My mom has a three-day rule that I try to adhere to: wherever I am, I’ll give it three days. If I am still as flustered and frantic at the end of the third day, I can come home.

Luckily for me, Korea won me over in one.

temple walk

I can’t wait to see where the next four months take me – I’m already thinking about side-trips to Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines, as well as weekend getaways to Busan and Jeju-do. South Korea is unbelievably complex, and I can’t wait to share it all with you.

Have any suggestions for where I should go? Please comment below!