The time has come to leave Korea and return to England.
I began the final day, May 26, by saying goodbye to my dear Korean friend Juliet in Angel-in-Us cafe. She left me with some precious parting gifts. I then bought two rolls of kimbap to eat on the train for lunch. When I told the lady in my favourite Kimbap 365 restaurant that it was my last day in Korea, she didn’t charge me for the kimbap.
At 12 noon I stood outside on the street at Byeongyeong Sagori, waiting for my Korean family to arrive, to take me to the KTX station in Eonyang. I took in the sights, watching the people come and go, thinking it was remarkable that I had lived here for twenty-one months.
A flock of doves appeared on the street in front of me. I have never seen these white birds before in Byeongyeong. I took it as a sign that I can find peace in leaving Korea, even though in this early, raw state it feels harrowing to be leaving behind the life I had created for myself here.
The Korean family arrived and had even brought me a packed lunch to take on the train. This is testament to just how generous and kind most Korean people are. I will really miss Da Jeong and her parents. I waved goodbye to them as I boarded the KTX train at 1:30 bound for Seoul.
I arrived at Seoul Station around 3:40 and transferred to the subway shuttle to Incheon Airport. I befriended an elderly Korean couple who sat next to me on the subway and we spoke at length about my Korean experience. They had lived in Vancouver for 23 years so their English was impeccable.
They were so taken by me and my Korean speaking abilities that they agreed to take me to dinner in the airport, which was great because I had five hours to kill before checking in for my flight. We ate don gass (pork cutlet) together and chatted until 8pm. We parted ways and I settled in for the long wait before my flight at 11:50pm.
We got off the ground early, taking off at 11:30, for a gruelling 11-hour night flight to Istanbul, Turkey. I wasn’t expecting to be able to sleep on the plane, and I didn’t, not a wink, crammed into my seat like a sardine with no leg room, and an overweight Turk beside me with his elbow practically digging into my sides.
I witnessed Koreans on the plane using their smartphones mere minutes before take-off. One guy then eagerly switched it back on the second we landed in Istanbul the next morning. I find this constant dependence on one’s phone a little worrying. If we are not careful, human beings will devolve and begin to be born without vocal chords or voice boxes. Don’t people just talk to each other anymore?
I arrived in Istanbul airport an hour earlier than scheduled, at 5am Turkish time. After a three-hour wait I boarded the next flight and spent a further four hours above the clouds until finally arriving at Manchester Airport at 10am UK time, 6pm Korean time. All in all I had travelled for 30 hours.
Immediate reactions to being back in England are hard to digest at this current time. To say it is surreal is an understatement.
I imagine reverse culture shock already has me gripped in its talons and won’t release me until a few days have passed.
So here are my final thoughts on South Korea.
I went to South Korea in August 2011 to experience living abroad, seeing another culture, and having an unforgettable adventure, after struggling to find work in my chosen field of law in England.
What I found was a country steeped in 5000 years of history, with old Buddhist temples and futuristic glass structures in the same landscape, a country which is 70 per cent mountainous and which offers beautiful hiking opportunities. I found a race of people kind and generous, curious about me, who work extremely long hours and demand services whenever they want them.
There are hospitals on every street corner. Cafes stay open until 11pm. If your electronic gadgets are broken, they can be fixed for free.
Crime is rare, and in a city of more than one million people, I could walk around any part of Ulsan on my own at any time of day or night and feel completely safe, totally at ease. Sadly, the same cannot be said for England.
Korea’s thirst for education is insatiable, as can be seen by the many hagwans littered about the cityscape. Confucian ideals remain, and the elder generations are respected by the young.
In some respects Korea seems like a utopia, there is a clean efficiency in the mechanics of society.
The food of Korea is on the whole very healthy. In fact the World Health Organisation stated that if not for being a little too salty, Korean cuisine would be perfect. In Korean dining, rice and vegetables take a dominant role, whereas in Western dining the meat does that. It has to he said, you don’t see many overweight Koreans.
Korea may just be as culturally different from England as it is possible to get. I had no idea what to expect from this country, and now that I have lived there for nearly two years, I can honestly say that it is a force to be reckoned with, rich in culture and bustling with pride. I think Korea is a great country. I hope I can return one day.
I honestly cannot believe that my Korean adventure is now over. I now have to deal with reverse culture shock, adjusting back to life in England. Being in Korea has been the most incredible phase of my life so far; there will always be a place in my heart for this remarkable country and the wonderful people I have met, both Koreans and other foreign teachers alike. I have made some lifelong friends for sure.