Life was good in a small town in Florida, a town I had basically lived in since I was 2 (except for the chunks of my toddler years I spent living overseas in China, but we’ll save that story for another day) and had given me everything I ever wanted: a few great friends, the beach, lizards, and my truck.
As a high schooler, I was pretty stubborn about what I thought I wanted. In 10th grade, my mom got hired to work overseas for the Department of Defense as a teacher, specifically at Camp Humphreys, South Korea. I was devastated! No more driving my 1994 Toyota pickup from school, no more beach runs, no more hanging out with my friends, and no more seeing my amazing Florida boyfriend… (Turns out, he wasn’t that great.) I couldn’t imagine that life would be good after moving. I’d have to make all new friends, and lose opportunities for jobs, scholarships, and college in Florida. After many tears, some difficult goodbyes, and packing up my favorite books, my parents and I moved to Korea… and let me tell you: my life improved tremendously.
I’d never been more excited to land in a new country after seeing the rocky beaches surrounding the Incheon airport in Seoul. The scene was something out of a movie as our commercial plane flew out of the mist, over the water, through low-lying clouds to rocky, jagged beaches, and finally landing.
Even though moving to not only a new school but a new country was rough, as I had to completely start over, Korea turned out to be just the thing I needed. I started 11th grade at the high school on base, in the town of Pyeongtaek, and quickly made new friends from all over the world: Mongolia, Japan, Korea, China, Germany, and Italy, to name a few. Once we settled down, my parents wanted to travel to Seoul and the surrounding areas. They mostly wanted to see the more traditional parts of Korea, like the Korean Folk Village in Suwon, and the old gates in downtown Seoul, which were pretty awesome. I got to learn a lot about Korean history. Eventually, I got around to taking the trains by myself and with my 친구들 (friends).
In Korea, I learned how to get out my comfort zone in a good way. In addition to coping with a move, I had to learn to accept a culture that was completely foreign to me. While in my experience the Korean culture was welcoming and friendly, I still had to adapt to the food, the language, and the customs. This put my life into perspective and helped me grow up a little bit. My junior year of high school was filled with traveling, new foods, and trips to the karaoke bar. I was force-fed pig intestine by my Korean friends, thrown off the wrong train because I couldn’t read Korean, lost in Itaewon, all while meeting people from all over the world.
In addition to the Korean aspect of my move, I also was introduced to the military base life. Finally, I was surrounded by people who understood that there are other countries that exist besides America. While I did grow to feel comfortable in Florida, my peers generally had no ability to understand my life experiences. When I announced I was moving to Korea, I was bombarded with questions like, “Aren’t they communist?” and “So you’re gonna eat dog?” But on the base, everyone had been everywhere, and had some appreciation for traveling, which made it was easier to connect with people and make friends.
In terms of the school, I branched out and tried new things, mostly due to peer pressure, but in a positive way. I joined the soccer team, the competitive drama team, and participated in student government, which are all activities that I wouldn’t have dared to try back in the States.
I even went to Prom in Korea, both my junior and senior year, and even though it was exactly like Prom in the United States, it looks a million times cooler because I had my pictures taken at a temple.
By the time senior year rolled around, I had a pretty amazing life in Korea. I started to understand the language better, navigate through the subway systems, and knew where all the good Boba Tea cafes were. I knew my life was much richer than it had been before, as I felt more inclined to continue traveling and seeing new places, whereas in Florida, I was content to stay there forever. While this shift may be attributed to just growing up in general, I still feel like an international move is what helped develop my thirst for adventure. I started researching how to land an exchange program to Seoul while in college, just so that I’d have an excuse to travel.
Don’t get me wrong, high school was still horrible. There was petty drama over boys, friend breakups, romantic breakups, bad grades, sleepless nights, endless essays, gross lunches, and really questionable fashion choices… but sometimes, I forgot that I was an awkward teenager because I lived in such a cool place with so many things to do. I even managed to graduate!
Despite my initial resentment of the idea of relocating to Korea, I learned to take an obstacle like moving and turn it into a life lesson. Korea turned out to be a blessing, and another chapter in my life that I will be glad to look back upon later. There is still much exploring to do, so the story’s not done yet!