On this day, one year ago, I set off on a journey that would forever change my life. To re-live the memories, I read through the journal I kept and of course had a bowl of kimchi 🙂
It has been about 8 months since I’ve been home, and people are still amazed about how goo-goo eyed I am over Korea. But an experience like that is something that one can’t forget too quickly. I only lived in Seoul for 5 months but those 5 months were filled with so much change that (sorry for the cliché) my life has really changed…
This area of my life definitely saw the most change while in Korea. Now before leaving home I was already a Christian, but I was nowhere near zealous, and to be completely honest, I had turned lukewarm. Lukewarm meaning that yeah I believed in Jesus and went to church (read my Bible on occasion) but had no real relationship with the Lord. All of that changed with Korea, in fact, this change started before I even boarded the plane.
The deadline to apply for my study abroad program was May 31st, 2013. Now before I go any further I have a confession to make……I have a problem with procrastination. Don’t worry it’s getting better! A physical was a requirement for my application and I waited until the very last minute to make an appointment ( they also wanted me to get some other blood test in which squeamish me almost passed out but that’s a story for another time). Guess what day I had my appointment? Yup, May 31st. After the appointment I rushed home and tried submitting my application. The application site proceeded to tell me that the registration period was over. See, it had never occurred to me that they meant May 31st Korean Standard Time. This was one of those duhhhhh, slap on the forehead could have had a V8 moments. After trying again and again and AGAIN, I had to accept the fact that my application was not going through. The next day, June 1st, I sent an email to everyone at EWHA that had an email address and anxiously awaited their replies. In what seemed like forever, their replies started to trickle in but, to my dismay, they all carried the same grim message:
Thank you for your interest in our program. The application window for this year has closed.
There was more than that but after those two lines I stopped reading. After reading every reply I let my emotions get the better of me and cried. Even though I procrastinated on making the doctor appointment (c’mon I don’t like needles!), going to EWHA was something that I really wanted to do. I found out about the school in November of the previous year and had not stopped talking about it since then. The original plan was to go to EWHA for the summer, but since I already used up my financial aid for the school year that plan was nicked so that’s when I decided to go for the fall. I think I spent June 1st through the 5th as a dismal bump-on-the-log in the corner, acting like I was defeated and crying occasionally. Another reason for the tears was that during this whole process I had been praying to the Lord to make a way for me to go, and as of yet I had seen no change. To this day I remember sitting on the side of my bed and asking Him, “When will you do this for me?” I remember hearing His voice as clear as day saying, “When you trust Me”. It was then I realized that although I had been praying, I was also doubting at the same time. At that very moment, I sucked up the tears and decided from that point on, with every fiber of my being, I was going to trust Him to fix this. On June 10th, 2013 I received an email saying:
Yes our application period for this year has closed. We will reopen the application site in a few days so you can apply.
I promise you, if I could have done a backhand spring I would have. But since I can’t, I just boogie danced until I got tired, thanking Jesus the whole time. This was the beginning of me learning how to pray, but to pray with unmoving faith and no doubt. Even in my foolish ways of procrastination, my God made a way. Talk about grace and mercy! I was able to apply to the program on June 16th and on June 19th (my 21st birthday) I got the email of acceptance. Needless to say that was the best birthday present ever. But the lesson didn’t stop there and it continued into the next month when it came time to purchase the airplane ticket. The day I received the funds to purchase the ticket I went online to see the prices. As it turns out, I was about 3 or 4 hundred dollars short (I can’t remember the exact price). But without hesitation I prayed and then thanked the Lord for allowing me to find a ticket within my price range. About 15 minutes later I found a ticket to Seoul that I could buy and officially had a departure date, August 27th 2013. Here is one last pre-departure story. I could not drive to my nearest Korean embassy so I had to mail off my passport so I could obtain the visa. I didn’t want to send my precious passport in the mail but I had not choice (though I did get a tracking number to ease my mind). One day I went online to track it and saw that nothing had been updated since the 1st scan which was weird because it had been almost a week since I sent it. I called the number on the receipt and after about 10 minutes of being on hold they told me that they didn’t know where my envelope was. That’s something no one wants to hear about their passport. For a moment, for a MOMENT I panicked. Why? Because I’m human and not perfect and never will be. But I quickly got myself together and just thanked the Lord for my passport returning to me. Sure enough, my passport returned to me safe and sound and with my visa. What I learned from these three instances is that having mustard seed like faith is all God needs to move. As a believer, a life of faith is not an option, it’s a priority.
Since I took up so much time with those stories, I’ll sum up the rest. While in Seoul, I found a church home with New Philadelphia Church, which is lead by pastors Christian and Erin Lee. This is an English speaking ministry (the head pastors are Korean-Americans) and they also have a college campus ministry called Emmaus. The most important things I learned from them are:
- Tithing- This means giving 10% of the money you receive back to God. I had already known about tithing but never really understood or experienced its importance until Korea. Everything is already God’s so you’re just giving back what already belongs to Him. I learned that you can’t out give God. When you give your tithes and offerings, and cheerfully give them, His blessings outdo anything you could give.
- Importance of QT- QT or Quality/Quiet time with the Lord is so important and it was an area in which I was lacking. Reading your Bible and praying are important, but its just as important to allow the Lord to speak to you. Seeking the Lord and spending time with Him that is uninterrupted, with your mind completely focused on Him is so very vital.
- Stewarding the fire- A spiritual fire was set ablaze in my heart at a youth retreat with Emmaus in November of 2013. When I say this I mean I have a passion, a strong passion to live for the Lord and to tell others about Him. 🙂
Spending 5 months away from family in a foreign country does a lot for your confidence. During my 5 months in Seoul, I matured a lot. No one was there to show me where the immigration office was I found it by myself. My mom wasn’t there to help me at the doctor’s office, I had to rely on my own Konglish skills for that. I guess what I’m trying to say is that my sense of independence grew. What made my confidence really blossom was the Namsan Tower incident. Namsan Tower is a famous tourist attraction in Seoul and I decided to with a group of girls from my class. We all decided to go at night since the tower would be lit up and the city would look amazing covered in lights and what not. To make a long story short, our group got split up and I ended up getting lost up there, by myself, with no phone. I was still a newbie in Seoul at this point and had no idea how to get back to school. I honestly did not panic and I think that this is largely due the fact that Seoul is so safe, especially for a lone female traveler. We got up to the tower by cable car and had picked one girl to keep everyone’s ticket stub. Every time I think about that, I think about what a horrible idea that was. Without my ticket stub, I had to walk all the way down. Did I mention that Namsan Tower is on Mt. Namsan? I mean it’s no Mt. Everest but I lost count of how many stairs I walked down. It would have been a very beautiful, scenic experience, but my bladder ruined that as I desperately needed to find a restroom. I started skipping steps to get down faster. When I got to the bottom, I wasn’t sure if I should go left or right. It was late and no one was around to ask so I just went right. I walked and walked for a long time until I found some one I could ask for directions. It was a lady, who was not much older than myself. I asked her where the nearest subway station was and she pointed to where a cluster of buildings were up ahead. I thanked her and walked away with even more ease, since I knew I was on the right track. Finding the subway meant that I had found my school. EWHA has its own stop on the subway line (line 2 or the green line) so from there it was just a straight shot back to school. As crazy as it sounds, that is one of my favorite memories of Seoul.I had just maneuvered the streets of a mega city, in a foreign country, alone. Korea helped my confidence grow. 🙂
I took this picture on my way down from Mt. Namsan
Spending 5 months away from family in a foreign country does a lot to your heart too. I thought I would be fine since in the States I stayed on campus. But instead of being just one state away, I was literally an ocean away from my family. My 1st two weeks in Seoul were very difficult because I was extremely homesick. This was my very first international trip. It got better with time. I’m not saying that I stopped missing them but going out and meeting new people and exploring new places helps. The only other time I was extremely homesick was during one of my absolute favorite holidays…Thanksgiving. Not having my family around and not eating all of my Thanksgiving favorites felt so odd. I did get to skype with them on Thanksgiving, but it was after dinner because watching them eat would have been pure torture. Going to Korea taught me to always be appreciative of the time I get to spend with my family. 🙂
While in Korea I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the globe. I met other people from the States, Canada, Brazil, France, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, China, Japan, Poland, and Germany. I met some really amazing people and I still keep in contact with some to this day. There was one particular friendship that is very special. My first flight took me from my home to Dallas, Texas. While in Dallas, my flight to Seoul got delayed so I had time to walk around and what not. Well, I met another girl from Florida who was also going to Seoul; she was going to the same school as me! I was so happy to have someone to travel with since this was my first long distance flight and I was hecka tense. Our seats were nowhere near each other on the plane but I would see her when she would get up for a walk and she would stop by my seat and we would talk. She tried to encourage me to watch movies to relax my nerves. I was so tense and nervous, the only thing I watched for that 13 hour flight was the flight tracker map. I never left my seat but when I finally dosed off I woke up feeling strange. I was airsick, which is not surprising since I sometimes get motion sickness in the car. The flight back home was much, much smoother! Anyways, after we landed in Seoul we didn’t see each other again until classes started. We actually ended up being the only two international students in our International Law class. After that we spent more and more time together and friends turned into sisters. We had many fun, crazy, and odd adventures in Seoul (one memory includes her praying and me crying in the middle of a McDonald’s. I’m sensitive…don’t judge). When it was time to board the plane to go home, we found out that our seats were right next to each other. No one can ever tell me that this friend/sistership wasn’t God appointed. Since returning to the States we keep in contact and are both saving up to make visits. Korea gave me new friends all over the globe and a new sister 🙂
Living outside of my usual social norms was a challenge, but a fun challenge that I’ll always be grateful for, and I’ll always cherish my time in Seoul. Koreans are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met (they loved me and my kindergarten Korean skills) and I’m happy that I got to experience their culture for 5 months. Korea was just stop numero uno as I plan to travel to many other countries as well. But no matter where I go, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for South Korea 🙂