Back in India I was just another normal girl who followed all the norms of my culture, went to my university and lived with my parents, with simple aims in life and little idea about how exactly I wanted to make my dreams come true. While I was still applying for my scholarship and getting my course and schedule organized the magnitude about this new transition that I was undertaking never really struck me. I was more elated about achieving something for me through my own credibility and on the basis of my merit. After bidding farewell to my kith and kin on the 27th of February 2013, I set off on what seemed like the longest journey of my life. I was filled with a mixed bag of emotions, both anticipation and anxiety about the unknown. Finally arriving at Incheon airport sent this enthusiastic energy down my spine, or maybe it was the cold winds from the end of February. But unlike anything before I was sure that I was going to see and experience something completely original. The smiling faces of our co-exchange students or the smiling faces of other people at the airport or just the Dongguk students who were there to receive us, made me realize that I didn’t have to know another language to share joy with someone. We were all tired and jet lagged but when I arrived I truly experienced a feeling beyond words, which comes from a long time of waiting and imagining. Sitting in the bus driving down to Seoul I couldn’t close my eyes for a second because I feared I would miss the sight of something amazing outside my window, so yes this city gave me the best first impression.
Being in a new country with a mission to stay really teaches you a new form of commitment to yourself, and teaches you to learn the ways of the people around you. When in Rome do as romans ,like the old saying goes, so initially it was all about adapting to the Korean way of life, be it taking off our shoes even in our own rooms, learning to manage on a shoestring budget or learning the courtesy words, but my personal favorite was eating with chopsticks. A keen observation I made was the more hungry you are the faster you learn to use the chopsticks to eat, so I would make sure I was hungry before I went into the cafeteria. While taking pictures of the food we wanted to eat and asking people to work the machines for us, I really got out of the comfort zone of my home and country. It is the way one learns humility and courage.
Moving on to our first big step into the city was visiting the Namsan tower ourselves, asking people and figuring out our way along the bus journey. Sometime you have to get lost to find the right path. Namsan is not only the centre of this city but it is also the home of so many people’s hearts, symbolized with love locks. Seeing all the affectionate messages and looking at the spectacular view from that height just gives you a whole different perspective to what humans are capable of thinking and feeling. Of course it is nice to meet people from your country, and the Indian cultural week organized by our embassy at the university library, with home food and familiar looking faces in the traditional clothes we generally wear back home, was exactly the reassurance I needed when I was in a time of uncertainty in life.
Then came the next turning point, more of a culture shock for me, we went for traditional Korean barbeque dinner without our professors, and that is where I met new friends and a companion who never lets anyone off the hook in Korea, I was introduced to Soju! One companion always hounds in someone’s hand or dinner table or fridge or bag. Tasting the different kinds of food, some of the delicacies and the new kinds of sea food were quite a fun and experimental experience. “A country is made up of its people, who in turn make their culture and traditions,” as a wise man one said, and trying to sit here and pen down everything I have been though and felt over the past couple of weeks in Seoul is next to impossible, but I am going to share some of my most cherished lessons in life and memories with friends. I have been blessed with the opportunity to not only understand Koreans but so many people from different parts of the globe. It is amazing how diverse our dinner table looks at times, each person having accomplished something in their lives, with their own attitudes and upbringings, but all sharing the same fondness for Korea and Koreans.
Be it a bright sunny day spent at the Han river amidst the cherry blossoms, looking at the spectacular skyline of this city, or feeling enveloped in love at Nami island hoping to find our very own happy ending in life, or shopping and enjoying the night life that Hongde and Itaewon have to offer, or watching the sunrise at Houdoe from behind a green hilltop when you are one with nature, or just eating chamchi gimbaps or cheap takeout with friends. All this just made me realize how much I come to love to love being part of this community. In a small way it can bring a big change into people’s lives. There are so much to learn, so much to explore and so many new things left to tick off my check list. But Korea is surely going to be close to my heart and I am looking forward to the months that seem like moments.
As Robert Frost wrote, I would also like to hope for the best and wish for all the ups and downs of Seoul and Dongguk has in store for me. “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep”
Amala Ramesh firstname.lastname@example.org
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