Walking with Haechi (Prelude)

23 11 2009

It was my brother who first alerted me to the existence of the NYC’s Youth Exchange Program to South Korea. He just walked up to me one night and pointed the NYC’s website out to me (here it is, in case you’re curious).

Prior to this, traveling overseas – let alone Korea – was something I never really believed I would ever do: I’m a teacher, not some big-shot company representative – what business would a teacher have travelling abroad? And truth be told, I was rather resigned to that mindset.

Well, the announcement on the NYC website changed all of that overnight. Suddenly I was scrambling to get my 20 year-old passport renewed.

Throughout the preparation process, the thought kept bouncing back and forth in my head: Is this for real? Is this not but a dream? This shouldn’t be happening to me!

Like I said earlier: I was resigned to an unremarkable fate.

It was a real struggle, I must admit: balancing the natural excitement of the prospect of international travel with the sober reality that until I had a Korean visa in my hands, it was just a prospect. My parents summed it up neatly: “Prepare as if your travel is guaranteed.”

I spoke with a friend or two about the whole affair – my anxiety over the visa application, of meeting, interacting, and trying to make my peace with an altogether foreign culture and way of thinking, over who my fellow delegates might be. Over the course of such discussions, one of them helped me coin the term, “Social Ninja” – a person who easily blends with whatever culture he or she happens to find themselves in.

I read books, articles, and forum entries about Korea, marveling at the miasma of love affairs and horror stories centered around it. There was no doubt in my mind about whether or not I wanted to go – I did – but I also wondered if any of the horror stories would happen to me when I did. In case you’re wondering what sort of stories those may be, I shall direct you here and here (the real action is in the comments section). I warn you, some of the comments  can be rather impressionable and while I cannot verify their veracity, I daresay they have the potential of preventing the reader from retaining an objective point of view when dealing with Koreans in the future.

Having actually been to Korea now, I shall comment a little more on this in another post.

Long story short, I found myself a month or so later on a plane for Incheon International Airport, a Korean visa in my passport, and 10 other delegates (plus 2 NYC supervisors) for company…on a plane 90% full of Koreans.

The adventure begins.




4 responses

24 11 2009

i actually read about this on facebook. i’m glad you found out about it and had your adventure. or i would have felt guilty for not forwarding the information. 🙂

14 12 2009

hi po.. i’m reading your posts about korea and so far i’m enjoying it.

hehe curious lang.. ano or sino ang/si haechi? ehhehe!

14 12 2009

Haechi is a mythical creature…it looks like a bear with tusks. It is the symbol of the city of Seoul, much as The Merlion is the symbol of Singapore. 🙂

14 12 2009

aaaah.. i see. i understand now..thank you. ^^
i didn’t know they had a symbol/icon..

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