arrival & quarantine
Upon arriving in the airport, we were met with long lines despite arriving in the evening. At first, I thought it was normal that all of the staff was speaking to me in Korean (thankfully, I can understand enough to get around) until I noticed that they had been speaking to my friend in English the whole time. Though I would’ve understood them better in English, I’m thankful for the immediate immersion — it was a good boost and reminder to continue my language study. (A/N: Good opportunity here to remind you to please (!) learn at least the foundation & basics of the language of your host country! Not only is it respectful on your end but will also help you navigate around better).
As for quarantine, I’m not sure if it was ever jet-lag or my horrendous sleep schedule meeting a match across the world, but quarantine mornings were my favorite. I’m usually a night person, but ever since I arrived, I’ve been an early riser. The hotel we stayed in was wonderful, and meals were served at our door during designated times — they rang the bell for lunch and dinner, but not breakfast as to not disrupt our sleep in the mornings. Most people dread not being able to go out for a week, but for a homebody like me, quarantine was amazing.
There are pros and cons to getting lost — pros, you see more of the city. Cons, you have no idea where you are and you’re freezing in 20 degrees or less weather with a thin jacket. The first day out in Seoul, my friend and I got lost. We were on the search for a nearby health center to apply for our vaccine pass (as foreigners, our vaccinations are not recognized by the government since we got vaccinated abroad — therefore, they need to be registered at a health center, then we get a vaccine pass) to allow us entry in cafes, stores, and other establishments. We were in the Jung-gu district in Seoul and had no idea where to find the health center — KakaoMap had made things quite confusing and through all the little alleyways away from the main road, it took a stop at a nearby (but very cute) cafe to warm up, a heat pack from 7 Eleven, somehow ending up at DDP (Dongdaemun Design Plaza) and a missed bus stop to restart and get on track. (A/N: The cafe let us sit in after we showed her our vaccination cards from America, though having the vaccine pass has been much easier in means of entry of most establishments.)
We realized we were going in the wrong direction when the bus was going towards the residential areas. We got off the next stop and rerouted on KakaoMap, this time with me mainly directing (not that I was much better than my friend). This time though, I kept a closer eye on stores that showed up on the map and eventually found the health center. The most relieving moment was how easy the vaccine pass application was, as we had enough stress of navigating and getting lost in the freezing weather outside (Korean winters are no joke!). After a week in quarantine, it was an eventful morning — 20,621 steps later, we learned how to use and navigate public transportation (the bus specifically), dipped our toes in Korean cafe culture, and interacted with locals.
If any of you are from or have been to UNC Charlotte, you know how hilly that campus is. Sogang University is just the same, and rolling three suitcases down a large hill to the dorm is a workout in itself (though having a Gong Cha, Starbucks, two Korean restaurants, cafeteria, and a convenience store right next to and across the dorm was a pleasant surprise). Unlike UofSC housing, at Sogang you don’t figure out your roommate until check-in. Luckily, my friend and I got each other as roommates and moving into the dorm was a breeze. After unpacking and settling in, we walked to a nearby Daiso and got immediate essentials.
For anyone going to Korea soon — there is no bedding at Daiso. you can get bedding at Emart (Emart, not Emart24) or at one of the shops in the market, and this is a warning that it’s a little expensive. My first night after moving into the dorms was spent sleeping on the hard mattress with a smaller pillow from Daiso and my coat as a blanket. Be prepared (and yes, Korean beds are very hard)!
In the times of COVID-19, a negative result antigen test was required 48 hours prior to move-in. One key item I’ve brought with me abroad is a file folder from Walmart, and in there I’ve kept all of my necessary documents — negative PCR/antigen tests, TB test, flight information, passport and vaccination card copies, and anything else that was handed to me at the airport. As an international student, it’s important to keep these organized and with you during your travel. Once you arrive at your destination, keep your passport with your visa at all times, as that is your form of identification when abroad. A passport holder is a great thing to have, and I bought mine at Daiso for less than a dollar.
Though busy, the days between quarantine release to now have been fun — from walking around the Jung and Mapo districts and trying different cafes, learning that Lotte Hi-mart only sells appliances, and investing in a proper coat, there’s a new experience every day.
Best wishes from a girl with a new coat and a pair of tired legs,