I went to Korea in the summer of 2010 and had an experience which seemed like any other but ended up staying within me for years.
I had a workcamp in Gwangju starting soon and was still in Seoul. As an experience, I decided to do a templestay in a city midway: Jeonju. Unfortunately, when I got there, I could remember the name and place of the temple.
I looked for it again for hours but had to give up at one point. So I found a guesthouse in Gwangju and decided to go there one day earlier.
However, when I got there, I called it and got told to take a taxi which would cost me about 18,000 Wons. Having taken the taxi in Seoul quite a few times, this appeared very expensive shocked me and made me understand the guesthouse was extremely far from everything else. I canceled it.
But then, I had no back-up plan ready. I was in a city I didn’t know, with no place to sleep and a gathering point where I was one day later.
I sat down on a bench and started thinking.
What am I going to do?
As the first time in my entire life to be lost, to not know where to go, how to act, nobody to contact to help me, I started being worried.
This worry turned into fear and got me stuck on that bench…
For 2 hours.
I stayed there, thinking of all the possibilities, looking at the sign on the other side of the street saying you could stay there for 20,000 Wons which was above what I was willing to pay.
On the side, I could see a tall building with a large eye looking at me. I couldn’t help but feeling observed continuously. To this day I can clearly remember it.
After 2.5 hours and the sun gone, I finally gave up and went for the obvious choice of staying on the other side of the street.
This experience in itself is not full of unforeseen developments and shouldn’t have left such a strong impact on me.
Yet, the time spent on my own, lost, both in awe of this new country I was discovering and in fear because of having been so far out of my comfort zone, curved itself a place in my heart and mind.
I believe what allowed me to create such a positive memory out of this experience is the fact that time flew by despite spending time on my own (not studying or sleeping) and not actively moving towards somewhere for the first time in my life.
It provided me with the well-needed time to remember my past month in Seoul and around, to look at the people around me and see a world live its life as mine had stopped for a moment.
This feels like a long rambling but there is a point to this story.
9 years later, this memory is still engrained in my mind. My love for Korea has grown farther. The few times I have been back in Gwangju, I have had the same feeling as when I go home in France.
A tiny experience can leave a lifelong memory. You just need to give it the time to create itself.
While I don’t wish for anybody to be lost in a foreign country, you can create time for yourself, to reflect, to understand your surroundings and yourself.
This experience may not have changed my life, but it sure impacted it enough for me to always remember that eye and keep on learning Korean.