The following post was written by Global Gap Year Fellow Sarah Duncan. Sarah is spending the first half of her gap year in Seoul, South Korea.
Before arriving in Korea, I was quite clueless as to what I should expect, who I would meet, and what I would be doing. Of course, I had a general itinerary outlined, but besides that, I was essentially nose-diving into this completely new and immersive experience. My main goal for the trip was to grow as a person, explore my identity, and leave feeling good about everything I had experienced. What no one ever warned me about was that, 3 months later, I would be breaking down in tears on the airport bus back home. Nor had anyone told me that the first thing I would do once I arrived at my house was search up the cheapest round trip flights back to Korea. Truthfully, 3 months in Seoul left me an emotional wreck. This definitely wasn’t the case in my first few weeks here. I remember a time when I would’ve died to go back home, a place where I feel safe and in my comfort zone. Now, just as I begin to feel comfortable in Korea, I am leaving.
I’m only just beginning to slowly unpack everything that I went through on my trip to a place that now holds a dear place in my heart. I wish I could tell you that everything about traveling is perfect. But it’s not. There will be high’s and low’s, and you will face doubt and uncertainty. Despite the challenges one can face during their travels, it’s important to remember how wonderful the experience is and the way it shapes us into more informed and open-minded individuals. I didn’t realize how connected I felt emotionally to Korea, but that is what happens when you spend such a long time somewhere. I guess I just assumed it would be simple, that things with Korea were no strings attached. Instead, so many strings formed that I hadn’t even noticed before. There were strings there even before I arrived! My identity, second language, mother’s culture which then formed into even more strings as I arrived like my uncle, aunt, cousin, friends, food, transportation, and entertainment. As much as it hurts for me to leave, I am so glad to have become fond of this place and I wouldn’t ask for things to be different. I’m grateful to have a place I can practically call home and where I have friends and family I can reach out to.
To end this overly emotional post, I guess I just want to say that travel does come with strings attached. But don’t be afraid of it. Don’t let that be the reason you don’t book your flight to a place you’ve been longing to go forever. As cliche and naive as it sounds, things do work out and I promise you will not regret traveling to wherever you plan on going in the future. I feel like I’ve let so many fears set me back from some amazing opportunities. I would give myself rational excuses for why I shouldn’t book the flight because it was too pricey, or that I shouldn’t go somewhere by myself because it was too unsafe. Sometimes these reasons can be true, but in my case, I used these as a way to back out of opportunities I was scared of. You don’t know how things will end up so you decide to take the safest route and stick to what you know. Don’t do that. Fortunately, I have had support through a gap year program that pushes me to get out of my comfort zone. Sometimes I wonder how long I would’ve kept myself in my own bubble if I hadn’t gotten into this program. All in all, I can’t wait to get back to this wonderful place. I’m not sure when that will be, it could be in a month, 3 months, a year, maybe even longer. Whenever I do get back, I can assure you I will be crying on the airport bus once again.