A Scotch-Irish Lass in Korea: First Impressions


Since quite a few people said that they wanted to hear about my new life in Korea, I figured I should start a new series about just daily life and adjusting to a new country. I don't usually talk about my personal life, but that used to be because it wasn't too interesting. Though to be honest, it's still not amazingly interesting... I may live in a new country, but I'm still here for school. But I'll talk about that more later. I wanted to make it a bit like a storybook (Hence the drawing) and I hope to incorporate more fun, quick-art in the future.

You may wonder why I chose this title for the series. That's a perfectly valid question though!
1. Many of the names I considered were already in use.
2. It was more unique to who I am.
3. It just sounded interesting, to be honest.

For those who don't know, I am about 5 1/2 feet tall, have blonde wavy hair, fair skin, and blue eyes. I'm also Scottish-Irish, American Indian (just a small percent), and have some Canadian heritage as well. Now being a tuber-eating descendant of Vikings means we/I have a larger build because, well, it's literally in our blood. When I say that I'm "big-boned" I mean it. I'm considered regular sized in those standards, maybe even a bit small! In Korean standards though... Well, let's just say I stand out in a very literal sense. This is who I am, and how I was born. There's nothing wrong with it and I'm very proud of my heritage. You can change Nationality, sure, but your family line is always there.

As an Irish Viking girl I have a pretty distinct perspective in South Korea. I'm not going too much into that for now, because I'm just trying to give a bit of background for the future. For now I'm simply writing about my first impressions of the Country that I will be staying in for the next 4 years. I want to get this into text while it's still at least a bit fresh.

I left "The States" (as I now affectionally call my Country of birth) in the morning on the 27th of August, and landed in Incheon, South Korea during the evening of the 28th. In case you're wondering, I took a Singapore Air flight, which happened to stop in Korea before continuing on (making the price lower than other airlines). The flight was long, but enjoyable. There was good food, hot towels, a free bag with some toiletries given to passengers, and an entertainment system full of TV shows, movies, and music. No crying babies around me, just a very pleasant business man, who mainly kept to himself, seated next to me. There was still a major time shift, but this helped a lot with the jet-lag later on. In fact, I never really felt jet-lag when I got here, and I guess that means I'm very lucky. The first thing I got to do when I landed was haul my awkward, wheel-less bag through the airport, as I struggled to follow the signs to Customs. I stood there in line, half-terrified, waiting for my turn. I had heard that in some countries dogs sniffed you and it was serious business to enter the country. I worried about my forms, if I filled them out correctly and if my Hangul (Korean Writing) was legible. I was lucky once again when I got through line without a hitch! I walked up, handed the guard my slip of paper and Passport/Visa combo, took a photo, scanned my fingerprints, and carried on.

I rushed towards baggage claim, still fumbling with the same heavy bag. I had filled it to the brim with paperwork, books, and a few sweaters that were too heavy for my checked bags. (Seriously guys, it was only like three or four pounds over between the two bags, yet they wanted me to pay about $300 for them being "overweight". Needless to say, I'm a poor College student so I just switched a few things around.) By this time the heavy load was taking a toll on my already exhausted body (after a total flying time of around 14 hours), and I ended up with a red mark on my shoulder from the strap. May I just take a moment to say, if it wasn't already evident, that I loath that bag with all my being? Okay, moving on.

After gathering my bags, packed with all the essentials for winter and summer seasons, I headed out to look for the people who would be picking me up, carrying my lucky Panda, Tao the Third/Pandapen/Seungri. (I'm indecisive about names...) The combination of luggage hauling and the new, ridiculously humid weather was making my sweat. My bangs were wet and messy, and I stomped around wearing my boots (it was easier to wear them instead of fitting them in a bag).
"Great," I thought, "I'll be all sweaty and gross when I first meet the people from my school..." I'm usually not pessimistic, but I was so nervous at this point that I started to imagine the worst. What if they were in a bad mood because I took to long to get outside? How embarrassed will I be when they see that I brought 3 bags with me? Granted, when moving to a new Country for about 4 years, unsure of your next trip home, that's not too much luggage. But I was still self-conscience about the heavy load.

My fears were all relieved when I saw a smiling group of enthusiastic students, who then came up to me and asked if I was the right person. Part of me thought, "How will they be sure of who I am?" Then I remembered that there weren't too many tall blonde girls coming out of the terminal, looking like a lost little bunny. When I look back I think, "How could they have missed me, honestly."

The funny thing is that once I put my feet on Korean soil, every word I had learned previously vanished from my mind. Every. Word. After studying Korean for such a long time, I couldn't properly say hello, goodbye, thank you, or "Please give me a bus ticket to _____" Speaking Korean was no longer an option according to my mind. I blanked, and continued to blank the next few weeks. I was fortunate enough to have a group of people picking me up that knew Korean, and were able to order the tickets for all of us! I wish I could say that as we drove to campus, switching between a bus and a taxi, I looked in awe and wonder at the landscape. But it was also after the sun had set, and I could only see the lights of the airport and the surrounding buildings. It's not to say that it wasn't beautiful, but more that I simply wished I could have seen more. I admired the tall buildings and the brilliant lights which reflected in the water below as we passed several bridges. The air was thick with humidity and it felt like I was being wrapped up in a hot, wet, blanket. I was so excited, though my tired features seemed to hide it pretty well.

After a ride in my first bus and taxi in Korea, we arrived at the school. Again, I couldn't see much as we pulled in. I mainly focused on getting my bags to the right building and chased after my guides. I got my room key, dropped off my luggage (including the stupid book bag), and headed to meet the other people on my floor. Again, I was sweaty, and while I felt wide-awake, my face said otherwise. I had to fix my card the moment I got there (It opened the door, but didn't properly work on the lights to turn them on). I was lucky enough to run into someone who wanted to help, and just as she offered, the maintenance worker passed us by. (Yea, I have some major "Luck of the Irish". I'm pretty darn thankful for it too.) I fixed it quickly, and headed down to the meeting. Since my flight was so late, I only caught the end of the meeting. I was still able to meet a few people, including my roommate, and had a fun time meeting the people I would be studying with for at least the next semester. (There are so many divisions in this college and some people leave for other campuses, and other stay. I'll save that confusing-ness for another time.)

I let my family and friends know I was safe, now using an internet based number, and the borrowed "Olleh" phone service. I unpacked a little and made the bed, ready for my first night in Korea. I just kept staring out of the window to my dorm room, trying to make out as many details as I could. It had been a long day and that made sleeping a bit easier. Yet I was still in a new bed, so i had to get comfortable. I woke up the next day and it was raining outside, with thick grey clouds covering the sky as far as the eye could see. Because Songdo is built on reclaimed land (it used to be ocean year ago, and it's now a business district in a city!) the rain smells like the ocean. That also means it's windy and humid/misty. It was at that moment that I remembered what it was that I forgot to pack. That's right, an umbrella. I think I used up too much luck the night before, because it seemed to have run a bit dry at that point.

So let's go over my first impression in a more organized manner!

  • Korea is very humid and hot in the summer.
  • The people are extremely nice.
  • The water around Incheon is very beautiful at night!
  • The lights from the buildings stand out more than the stars during the evening.
  • The buses and taxies are very efficient and cheap! (about 1,200 won for the bus, and 4,000 won for the Taxi) 
  • The rain smells like the ocean in Songdo, which is lovely. 
  • I'm not a giant here, but I'm not exactly a petite flower girl either.
  • Living on reclaimed land is really interesting. It's a city, yet there's sand, the smell of the ocean, mist, and plenty of wind. 
  • It's best to get a flight that leaves in the morning and lands in the evening, for jet-lag reasons.
  • Singapore Air is a fantastic Airline to fly with! 
  • It's very humid (again).
  • Cars look rounded and slightly different
  • There are signs everywhere, some of them "Western Chains" but with Hangul instead of English. 
  • I'm very happy to be here, and to have a view on the 8th floor which overlooks the city.
Even though I was not born here, and I stand out with my very "Foreign" look, I feel comfortable here. I may have suddenly Etch A Sketched my Korean somehow, and spent a long time looking around embarrassed and somewhat like a helpless forest critter, yet I made it. That is the important thing. After years of dreaming, and a few more years of blood, sweat, and (plenty of) tears, I made it. I may not have an ounce of Korean blood in my exotic cocktail of DNA, but it still feels right that I'm here. 
This is my home now. 


To be continued... 

-C.A.M. 

(Did I mention it's really humid here?)