Travelling from Sunrise to Sunset: My Journey to Korea

For my family and friends who have asked, here are the details of my journey to Korea… the post is quite long but it has the emotions, lost luggage, navigating the subway on Day One, and all.

I received my flight’s ticket about 15 days prior to departure.

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Departure Time: Friday, August 31 7:00 am, Jacksonville, FL (EST)

Estimated Arrival Time: Saturday, September 1st 4:10 pm Incheon, Korea (KST)

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August 30th, 2012

Jacksonville: “It Just Got Real”

7:00 pm– Home cooked dinner at the boyfriend’s house

11:00 pm– My recruiter calls… He said that there was an overbooking of teachers for the airport pick-up service in Korea. I would have to meet the driver at an exit different from my flight’s. I would share the ride with another teacher who would arrive 30 minutes earlier. So, the ride would be half-priced… 30,000 KRW. I wrote down all of the information, printed directions, and downloaded the subway map onto my phone just in case something happens.

August 31st, 2012

2:30 am– I try to stop packing, shower, and take a nap. The nap didn’t happen… I check my international flight. There still wasn’t an assigned seat on my ticket. I do a little research and go through the airline’s website to reserve a preferred seat (in economy class). (As easy as 1-2-3 and no additional charges!)

4:10 am– My mother, step-father, and boyfriend are on the way to the house. My boyfriend arrives first and does the final cuts to my luggage to get it under the weight. I was definitely counting on him to get me down to weight.

4:45 am– I say my good-byes to my grandmother and two of my brothers. The youngest brother joins my mom, step-father, boyfriend and I on the way to the airport.

5:10 am– I checked in for the flight. The person at the counter was concerned about a handle on my suitcase that I wrapped in Scotch Tape (yes, cheap me). He said if it breaks, the flight tag may fall. I didn’t think ‘it would happen to me’ (It was Scotch after all!). He checked in my baggage anyway.

5:30 am– I say my good-byes to my mom, step-father, and youngest brother. They head home. My boyfriend and I head to the closed food court.

6:00 am– It’s time to go. I put on my backpack, he hands me my carry-on and pillow. After a few emotional moments and a broken promise of ‘not crying’, I head to the security line with red, teary eyes. Not only was that the moment that we officially ended our relationship, but I was leaving home and everyone I loved. I didn’t want to think too much. I made my way through the hilarious, good humored security who wanted my grandmother’s fried fish (that I placed in a zip loc bag) then to my flight’s gate.

6:45 am– I text my youngest brother, “Yo, it just got real lol”

7:00 am– The airplane starts to lift off. The sun is rising… daybreak is just beginning. I look down upon my city, not knowing when would be the next time I see it again.

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The journey began with a breath-taking sunrise over my home land & waters

The journey began with a breath-taking sunrise over my home land & waters

Charlotte: “Carry On and Creepy Smile”

8:43 am– I find my departure gate at the Charlotte airport. I get up to use the restroom and find the restroom custodian a bit unique. She was a tall young lady with a mannish figure and voice… and a wig. So kind with hard work ethics, though! She constantly told every new ‘customer’, “Welcome to Charlotte” and which stall she just cleaned. I never saw a tip jar in the bathroom before… it sat next to the sinks so it wouldn’t be missed. I told myself that it’s okay, because I didn’t have change. >.> She continued to greet people in that loud voice as I exited (holding my chuckles)… oh, dear Charlotte…

8:50 am– As I sat waiting for the boarding time, there was a young woman sitting next to me. I could feel her eyes piercing through my skin. I slowly turn and the largest grin on her face. Frankly, I was a bit creeped out. My awkward smile crept on my face. She was amazed by a nail buffer and wanted to share her joy. “Is she some secret salesperson??” I thought as she buffed her other hand’s naiils and asked if I wanted one. “Free?” I thought, “I don’t really want or need it…. but if it’s free.” Then, she burst my bubble by saying it’s only $5. Nah… I changed the conversation quickly. She turned out to be a real cool person, an animator, on her way to New York City.

8:55 am– Start boarding. I was in the last class to board (Class F). The plane ran out of room for carry-ons. I was told that I had to check in my carry-on… the bag that I made sure to carefully pack *just in case* my luggage is lost or left behind in transport. My defense shot up. I wasn’t too sure about this. They were automatically checking the luggage to NYC. I corrected them quickly and became concerned that it wasn’t going to make it across the ocean. I asked twice before I handed my precious luggage over, “Are you sure that this will be in Korea when I land?” The flight attendants said yes… twice. I *literally* took a deep breath, took out any really important information, and handed my back-up bag over. I boarded only with my backpack and pillow.It was slightly a good thing that I didn’t have my carry-on. I could stuff my pillow under the seat.

9:25 am–  We headed back into the air. This time, my flight partners were a happy, recently married couple… arranged marriage in India. I fell asleep for a short amount of time, but as promised the young lady woke me up. Ididn’t want to sleep til the flight to Korea. We all got excited as we saw the border of New York approaching. The young lady and I tried to take a picture of the Statue of Liberty, but we never saw it. We did spot the Empire State building, I think. What amazing conversations came from that flight.

Meeting joyful people... making the enjoyable journey even better

Meeting joyful people… making the enjoyable journey even better

New York City: “Visa & Luggage Trouble”

11:30 am– I land in New York… amazed at how large the airport is… bigger than Miami in my head… and glad that I studied a general map. After asking a few rude employers for basic directions, I stumbled my way to my international airline’s desk. I had to pick up the ‘official’ ticket… but there was a problem with my visa AND checked-in carry-on luggage. The Koreans took my passport and flight information, ran around to each other in total confusion, and spoke the language that I never heard very rapidly. Only one told me about the problem in a brief 2-minute explanation. They asked for my ticket and checked-in carry-on baggage slip… something that I needed in order to pick up my carry-on at the final destination. I made sure to repeat, “I need this back.” As the Koreans left me in the dark I watched the time creep too closely to boarding time. I don’t remember a time, but it was ‘too long’. They finally returned my passport and gave a new ticket. They told me to rush to the plane.

12:20 am– I make it to the gate after having a mishap in the bootleg security and having to go through twice (doggone water bottle). A minute before boarding time as I panted from the sprint, they announced that the plane has been delayed due to ‘flight connections’. * sigh of relief* My growling stomach could finally get substance (hadn’t eaten since dinner). I could also fill my water bottle and use the restroom. As I began to search for chicken wings, I remembered the airport pick-up service. I email my recruiter and inform him of the 30-minute delay. He said that he will pass on the information since I won’t have a phone when I land in Korea. There wasn’t any real food (at a reasonable price) on this side of the airport. I scanned the junk food in a convenient store (without walls) and grabbed breakfast: Cheez-Its. Yet, I could only stomach two Cheez-It pieces before boarding. *nerves and wanting to text and talk for the last few minutes* There were only 3 other English people in the waiting area. I over heard one tell the other that he was going to Korea to teach English for a year. He was nervous. I thought about walking over to join the conversation, but I was nervous too. I took a picture of the outside of the airport and started texting again to ease the nerves… I was really ready for bed.

1:00 pm–  Started boarding.. My ‘Preferred Seat’ class was the third group to board, and the first in economy. I placed my bag in the overhead and found my seat. I was in a 3-seater row, in the window seat. The night before when I made my reservation, the seat next to me wasn’t reserved. I hoped that no one would sit there. I read on some tips for ‘The Best Seats for a Long Flight’ was to not have someone sit in the seat next to you. The bloggers said that having a vacant seat is the by far the best option ever. I kept watching the people board the plane. One lady placed her stuff in the bin above, but sat in the aisle seat. No one came to sit in the seat between us. The plane was stuffy… very stuffy. I was concerned that it would be hot the whole way. (“Do they not like A/C in Korea like El Salvador?”) I tried to relax and smiled back to the lady sitting in my row smiling at me. She looked like an older business woman and had the vibe of a great heart. I really wanted to take off my shoes (as I do at work, in the theaters, everywhere… but would that be rude on the plane?) I sat observing people. Shoes started to come off. I was in the clear. I took off my shoes both shoes in like two seconds. My heart was happy, but before I could place my feet (with socks) on the ground, my happy plane buddy threw the newspaper that she was reading underneath my feet (ninja skills). She tried to tell me about the slippers, but could not speak English. I figured it out by looking around. (That’s what that bag on every seat was for! Slippers, pillow, sleep mask, and blanket) I put the cheap but comfy slippers and sat back. My pane buddy pulled out a chocolate bar and broke off a piece for herself. She gestured for me to keep the rest. First off, I didn’t understand why she was offering me of half of her candy… I was a total stranger. Maybe it was a grandma thing to do. She looked so sweet. Second, I wasn’t hungry for sugar… in fact, it would hurt me on an empty stomach. But how could you resist? I accepted the offer, bit a piece and wrapped it up for later. Then, I pulled out my phone to message an update and how it still seems to be a good sign about Korea.

1:30 pm– The flight crew informed us to shut off all electronics. I sent my last text and turned off the Samsung Galaxy 2. I grabbed my pillow and looked out the window to stare out at the lines of planes and backed up runways… We weren’t really moving… traffic jam? But I don’t remember, because in less than ten minutes, I was knocked out to the world.

My idea of brunch

My idea of brunch

De-stressing in JFK

De-stressing in JFK

In the Air: “The Longest 14 Hours Ever”

Unknown times 14 hour+ fight: I love planes… but I really did not like the length of the flight. I would definitely ride with Asiana Airlines again though. I woke up for two seconds to realize that we were flying over the Hudson River then the world was black again. My plane buddy woke me up for the first meal. I didn’t understand what the flight attendants were saying. So, I said ‘yes’ to everything in my half-sleep tone. They brought out a cute little meal. I decided to eat up and sleep later. I needed a meal anyway… and it was delicious. (“They will serve you fruit on the plane. Eat up, because fruit in Korea is expensive,” I remembered someone telling me. So, the fruit was the first to go.) The service was marvelous. The attendants constantly checked on everyone. We had a million snacks, teas, coffees, and two large meals. I didn’t think that I would be so stuffed. I could barely finish the second meal. I prayed that there wouldn’t be a third. The movies were unlimited. I may have been in economy class, but it felt like first class. I could not figure out why everyone kept saying “-imnida” every two seconds… but this was a great flight. I was sleep in and out (maybe 3 hours of sleep for every hour that I was awake). I started getting bothered at 7 hours, but the last two hours were the longgggest. I really don’t look forward to doing the flight again. However, I can’t describe my excitement when the map showed that we were landing in Korea.

Staying Updated about the Plane’s Location

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First full meal served not long after take off (did not know what this stuff was)

First full meal served not long after take off (did not know what this stuff was)

Watched several movies and watched Brave 1 & 1/2 times

Watched several movies and watched Brave 1 & 1/2 times

Second Meal in flight... MANY snacks in between

Second Meal in flight… MANY snacks in between

While entering the plane, flight attendants were passing out newspapers to everyone. Without question, they handed me the English one. I still haven't read it to date. I slept most of the way.

While entering the plane, flight attendants were passing out newspapers to everyone. Without question, they handed me the English one. I still haven’t read it to date. I slept most of the way.

"We have arrived in Incheon, South Korea" *goosebumps* *smiling face* *it is happening*

“We have arrived in Incheon, South Korea” *goosebumps* *smiling face* *it is happening*

Incheon, Korea: “Lost luggage & Subway Navigation”

6:00 pm– The mountains came into view behind the smog/ fog… The plane hit the ground. (Boom, boom) We made it… Touchdown.

6:30 pm- I went through the passport check without a problem and waited around the luggage claim section. One by one, everyone grabbed their luggage. I kept looking for my red suitcases… “Please don’t tell me… please don’t tell me…,” I begged in my mind. Nothing else came out of the shoot. People dispersed. The airport was empty again. There was a guy who looked like he could speak English watching the luggage area as well. When everything was quiet, an airport employee approached us. “Please don’t say it…” He opened his mouth, “Z-ha-a? Your luggage is in New York.” *Face palm*

So, not only was my luggage on another continent, but I was also 2 hours late for the airport service. I turned to the English speaker and said, “Please, please tell me that you know Korea.” He was from America. This was his second year teaching in Korea and had a Korean girlfriend. (God works in mysterious ways.) I pulled out my subway directions to the airport (that I printed the night before) and showed him. I have never ridden a subway before… and now, I was in another country’s sub. He had no problem showing me the subway system, because he was taking it to Seoul. After exchanging my money, we headed towards the subs. I quickly checked the gate where my driver was supposed to be… no sign with my name… or any non-Korean. I meet backup with the American.

The American and his girlfriend gave me a brief overview of the subway system and printed me a ticket. I looked at the map that I downloaded on my phone to find my station. We all got on the subway. I tried to remain calm. As the subway sped along, my heart smiled as I watched the sun finally set behind my new home’s buildings  It rose when I left Jacksonville, stayed in the sky as I crossed the Pacific, and finally sett as I made my way to the hotel (time zone differences). I think that little fire ball in the sky was watching over me the whole time. 🙂

That ride was one of the longest train rides in my life as I tried to think of any last questions/ hints before departing ways with the helpful American and kind Korean. The train announced the name of the station that I needed to make a transfer to a new train track. The God-sent couple were staying on the same line and traveling into Seoul. I waved good-bye and said my ‘thank you’s and my heart started to race again. How many trains would be at this station? There was a Korean couple sitting near a staircase. I asked them for directions to the transfer train, but neither could understand me… I took a wild guess and found my way on the right subway, because sooner or later, my stop was announced.

I looked on my printed emails and memorized the directions. Exit #3. At the bottom of the exit, I saw a staircase to heaven. Was this my introduction to Korea? Step by step while slinging my pillow, I mastered that Korean staircase and entered the real ‘Korean world’. The buildings raised into the night sky, but looked slightly oldish. Small cars roamed the streets. The sidewalks had filled trash bags on the side. Through the drizzling rain, I saw the neon signs on almost every building. However, I couldn’t soak it all in. I needed to make it to the hotel then to a market to purchase much needed items for the night and next day.

I started walking straight from the subway and saw a guy who looked like he could speak English. I did a quick pray that he wasn’t a creeper and stopped him. I asked if he knew where the hotel was. He asked me if I was a teacher. I still wasn’t accustomed to referring to myself as such, but “yes”. The random guy that I ran into was actually a recruiter for the Incheon Public Schools.

I told him about the left-behind luggage as well as my need for a change of clothes and basic toiletries. He said that it he would take me to the stores. I checked into the hotel, skipped dinner, led up to my room by a hotel employee (one key per room), threw my possessions on a bed (prayed that my roommate wasn’t crazy), and ran back to the front door.

The recruiter gave me another crash course of the subway system and Korea in general. After haggling, confusion, being told not to try on clothes, and trying to discover my clothing size in Korean, I was able to get everything that I needed and make my way back to the hotel on my own. When I got to the room, I let out a sigh of relief and entered… I don’t remember if my roommate was there. I think I laid out my stuff on the bed and she came in two minutes later. I do remember that when I first saw her, I had a second sigh of relief. I had an instinct to totally trust her and she was definitely a great person. I sat on the bed, the adrenaline started to fall. Finally, the day was over… I still needed to Skype, but I was finally in Korea…

I threw my stuff on the bed, took a pic, and ran out the door to go shopping. (the pillow and backpack was all of my possessions at that point... not included my small, brown, sling purse)

I threw my stuff on the bed, took a pic, and ran out the door to go shopping. (the pillow and backpack was all of my possessions at that point… not included my small, brown, sling purse)

The Next Morning… Waking Up in Korea

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