Korea Move: Flying Seoul-o
Cleo Gravett discusses the process of applying to study abroad and of the beginning of their study abroad experience in Seoul.
It is a chilly morning in January 2021, and I am at home in Kent in the never-ending yuletide lockdown limbo. The air in my house is heavy — we are all getting over covid while mourning my wonderful grandfather, who died the month before. I wake up to an email from Outbound, telling me that in about seven months’ time I’ll be studying at Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul. After five years of single-sex education in secondary school, I won’t lie, I didn’t think I’d be returning to it, but hey, it’d be a refreshing change to have a class without that one guy who always takes it upon himself to play devil’s advocate.
Soon enough it is late April, and I am tearing my hair out at my desk in my Exeter bedroom, as not only is the Ewha application deadline sandwiched between two of my biggest exams, but the application guide informs me that it must be completed on Internet Explorer 11, which, I am told by a friend who studies Computer Science, no longer exists. I am left wondering where in Devon I can find a computer with this browser, or if I should risk it all by downloading it — the software equivalent of throwing a brick at my laptop. I decide to boot it up on Safari and see how far I get. The submission goes without a hitch.
In sumptuous early July, I am in a bed in Mount Pleasant when Ewha emails, asking me to check my student ID against the dorm list to find out which room they have assigned me. I do. They haven’t. The three other Exeter/Ewha students and I are now tasked with finding an apartment in the capital city of a country with a pretty hefty language barrier.
It is an idyllic morning a few weeks later as I stumble out of a sweaty tent in a field just outside of Cardiff. The sea is calm on the horizon and soft clovers are dotted around my feet. I check my phone to a flurry of buzzes — the Ewha WhatsApp group is freaking out; everyone is wondering if they’ve got their visas in before the South Korean embassy’s sudden yet quiet suspension of student visas. They have. I haven’t. I was informed that I needed to wait until a later window in order to submit a quarantine exemption, though I am later told by the embassy that I do not qualify for the said exemption. I cancel my flight, and my excitement sags like a cheap balloon.
It is 4:15 am on the second of September, and it’s well past the part of summer when daylight would begin to tiptoe into the sky at this time of the morning. No, it is as dark outside as the coffee in my cup and the toast I burn while half asleep at the toaster. My first class of the Korean academic year starts in 15 minutes, and even a forced early bedtime the night before isn’t stopping the eight-hour time difference from frying my brain.
10 days, a miracle, and an almost-missed flight later, I reach my Korean quarantine hotel. I have not slept in 27 hours, and when my room door refuses to open I almost burst into tears and resign myself to quarantine in the hallway. By day six of quarantine, I have fallen back into the toxic friendship that I have with the Duolingo bird.
My travel motto has always been “stay one step ahead,” but throughout summer I felt left behind, playing catch-up with a goal that only seemed to get further away. I had stomach pains for a week leading up to my flight; I was so nervous that my plans would fall apart again. I only allow myself to get excited now because it actually seems real. I’m writing this on my last day of the quarantine, fizzing with anticipation for the adventures that lay ahead: walking around the museums and temples in Seoul, increasing my spice tolerance with new foods, and most of all, simply living in a big city for the first time. I’m studying Dickens’ ’Great Expectations’, for one of my modules here, and certainly title-wise, I don’t think there could be a better outlook for me to adopt for the year ahead.
Editor: Elen Johnston