Korea was a completely new experience for me. I cannot compare it to anything I have ever done before. Before leaving, I did so much research. I watched videos about Americans’ experiences traveling there. They talked about how easy it was communicating there, how kind Koreans were to Americans, how inexpensive it was, and what to and not to do while there. Those were all good and exciting things, and I was very excited, but nervous. They said all the good things, but what are the negatives that I should be prepared for while there? Where was this missing notable information?
Once I got to Korea, there were definitely things that were positive, but there were also downsides. For example, they said it was easy to communicate there without having any knowledge of the Korean language. Not 100% truthful. A lot of Korean people there knew English, and all the volunteers for the games could speak English pretty well. I taught myself a few things and basic Korean phrases before I left, so I did well, but I wish I would have known more, because there were a few times in stores and with taxis that would have been easier situations if I would have known more.
Another half-truth was the expenses while there. Mom came with me and stayed in a hotel not far off from the athlete’s village. Her hotel was okay, but certainly not worth the price she paid for it. Food was also not any more or less expensive than back home. I will say the taxis, though, were much less expensive than back home. The trip back a forth to mom’s hotel was only a few US dollars.
The people in Korea did like us though. Many of the Korean volunteers would approach the American team members for pictures and wave at us and say hello. They were very nice, and genuinely happy to help when they could. The occasional person I ran into that wasn’t so happy to see me wasn’t just being rude to me as an American, but to everyone. They still weren’t nice, but at least I wasn’t being singled out.
One thing I wasn’t quite prepared for was how dirty Korea seemed to be. It was at least in the areas I was in. The people themselves were very clean and took great care of themselves, but the shops and restaurants and hotels were all very dusty, dirty, and seemed run down. There also were very strong smells everywhere we’d go. The humidity wasn’t helping with the scent, and it made everything feel even more sticky and dirty. I understand that cities typically aren’t the cleanest places ever, but this was a different dirty. In Vegas, the streets may have some garbage or may be older, but there was still a feeling of being maintained. In Korea, everything felt like it was crumbling around you. Everything was always covered in dirt and dust and was run-down feeling. There were, of course, exceptions, but the majority of the time I was there, I felt like it was dirtier than I expected.
Korea was a great experience, for many reasons. It isn’t on the top of my list to travel back to, but I’m glad to have gone. I loved meeting the people, and experiencing the culture. It is something that I will be able to share with others for a long time.