My flight to Korea from Vancouver was 11 hours and 20 minutes. It wasn’t a novel experience for me considering that I have flown to Vietnam before and the trip was comparable in duration but it was still fun getting to experience an international flight alone. The flight attendants were very nice but the food was a bit subpar, even by my low standards (I’ll let you know now–I eat everything and I am a very easy person to please food-wise). I usually love airplane food because I’m always starving on these long haul flights and the cute way the food is organized is just so appealing to me. However, the two meals we got on this flight were pretty bad, as advertised by the reviews for Air Canada online. The first one was rice with some slices of beef and it was whatever; at the very least, it was edible. The second one was this awful pasta that was worse than a frozen meal. Eh, food is still food so I was grateful for the meals nonetheless. I found it quite hilarious and I suppose flattering that the flight attendant who served us food would always try to speak to me in Korean every single time she offered me food. I supposed I appear Korean?
This plane had a touch screen for every seat and there were movies and games and such but I only used it for the movies. I watched The Fault in Our Stars, Jump Street 22, and some documentary on Bolshoi ballet to kill some time since I had so much difficulty sleeping on the flight.
All in all, it was a pleasant flight. When I got to Incheon, I was freaking out a bit since I had left the “Address in Korea” section of the arrival card and customs declaration card blank because I had no idea what to fill that out with. Luckily, my travel buddies told me to just put in the address of the apartment we were going to stay at for our trip so that was quickly resolved. Unfortunately, there was a huge crowd at the shuttle that would take us from our gate to the area for check in. The line to check in was also rather long and the process of checking it itself was pretty long too. There were two people in front of me who had to be relocated to another room for inspection or something so that also made the wait longer as well. However, after passing through check in, since I was one of the last people on my flight to get through the check in, my luggage was already there at the baggage claim, waiting for me. Exiting the airport was also simple – my luggage wasn’t checked since all I had to do was turn in my customs declaration card. After that, I met up with my Korea buddies and we waited for the bus.
By the time I got to the bus, I was already extremely drained, both physically and mentally. Not only that but one of the luggage that my aunt and uncle lent me had a broken handle and it completely broke off when I got to the bus stop. Unfortunately, to add insult to injury, immediately after, I encountered my first bad experience in Korea. We were loading our luggage into the bus and there was this old man helping put our things into the bus. Now, he was placing stickers with a number on them so our luggage could be easily identified. There were two stickers per luggage, each with the same number so when you got off, the driver could easily find your luggage.Unfortunately, I brainfarted and tried to put the other sticker I got from one of my luggage onto the other luggage. It was a stupid but simple mistake but the old man got extremely mad at me and yelled at me, saying how could a guy like me be slower than a girl (my travel buddies are all female). Just minutes after stepping into Korea and I was already greeted with sexism from the conservative older generation of Korea. Beautiful.
Being exhausted, this experience shook me a bit more than it should have and it really made me feel very useless and inadequate. The first half of that bus ride to my temporary housing was rough because I just felt overwhelmingly like an idiot. It has been a while since I’ve felt this incompetent at life and I honestly almost wanted to jump out the bus and run back to the airport to catch a flight home. However, I realized that this was all part of the study abroad experience. I’m in a different country that has different standards and a different culture. I don’t have to agree with everything Korean; in fact, I shouldn’t since I’ve been raised in different circumstances. When mishaps like this occur, when I make a mistake, I just have to laugh it off and learn from it for next time. Yeah, it was something small and stupid but the fact that I reacted in such a sulky manner means that I have much more growing to do. I am still not brave enough to confidently recover from making mistakes and that needs to change. Nonetheless, as we approached our stop, I couldn’t help but get more and more excited as my study abroad buddy and I gushed over new sights while we embarrassed our tour guide friend.
So we arrived at our apartment building, dropped off of our stuff, and used the subway system for the first time. My tour guide friend led us through this very advanced, efficient, and just downright brilliant subway system and I was just blown away by how organized, logical, and on point the entire system is. No need for tickets, just pick up a “T money” card from any local convenient store, load it up with some money, and just scan in for entrance and scan out to exit the subway system. Trains run at very short intervals so if you miss the train or need to backtrack, you never have to wait long.
We got to this place near this university to meet up with our tour guide friend’s friends from church for our first dinner in Seoul. It was delicious (no need to inundate you with all the details when the details are in the pics below) and I got to meet some cool Korean folks. Interestingly, they initially assumed that I was Korean American and was surprised when our tour guide friend told them that I was Vietnamese American. Regardless, something about the first meal in a country you’ve never been before feels extremely and unexplainably special to me so this meal will always have a special place in my heart. Of course, dinner got extended for some bingsoo ice cream for dessert at a quaint coffee shop a block away from the restaurant we ate at. This was the welcome I had envisioned from Korea and I am so glad I got to experience it in the end.
After making the trek through the subway system again to get back home, I finally got the chance to settle into the place. There are three girls and one guy on this trip (yes, I am the only guy in our group but it’s cool) and the three girls get the downstairs while I get the loft upstairs. The loft’s ceiling is a bit low so I can’t actually stand up here but it’s quaint and spacious nonetheless. I was super exhausted so I took a shower and essentially knocked out after connecting to the wifi and responding to all of the missed notifications. I guess I’m more popular than I give myself credit for.