It’s 19th June and I’m still at home in the UK. I should have been in South Korea by now. Heck I should have been in Korea a long time ago if I look at the first time I failed in my plans to travel to Korea.
When people ask me if I’m going to South Korea or when I’m going or if I’m already there, I get that tired feeling of looking over my entire situation in the past year and a half of my life and having to explain the situation. It’s tiring. It reminds me of all the frustrations and tears and dramatic sighs and disappointment after disappointment that I’ve faced in the past few months. And then I tell these people something short and sweet that’s not exactly the truth but it’s a vague summary of what happened in the past few months so that they’d accept the news and not ask any more questions. Because that’s what I’ve done recently, finally after going back and forth between anger, shock, confusion, panic, and depression, I’ve finally found acceptance. I can tell you how I’ve done that but that’s a whole other blog post because it’s deep. Really deep.
Here’s what’s happening now: I’m going to Korea in September for a 12 month period of study at Yonsei University. But I have no idea what I will be studying. And I’m not letting that freak me out because after all this time (so long, I don’t know how long) I’ve finally found happiness.
Now here’s my story of failure in my plans to study in Seoul, South Korea: I shan’t go to the very beginning when I discovered the world of Korean culture and pop culture and decided I wanted to go to this supposedly magical wonderland because that was five years ago, so much has happened and that would make the story too long. But I will bring you back with me to the beginning of uni – September 2013. I was a fresher at uni for the first time. I was an English student and I had chosen that course because of two reasons: 1) my brain would not let me carry on any other A-Level that I had into uni in fear that I would completely lose my mind; and 2) it included a possible “sandwich course” option (which for those who don’t know is when you can take a year to study or work abroad after your second year as part of your degree. The second reason was the most important to me in choosing that course at that university as I had already failed in getting the grades to get to the university I originally wanted to go to – which would have taken me to a South Korean university in September 2014 – but looking at that in perspective, I am so glad I went to the uni that I am going to now. Sheffield is just too far away from my family and friends and I cannot stand that dorm life. As soon as I got to uni in 2013, I went to ask about the “year out” immediately. This was all I had in my mind. It was the one thing I wanted most. It still is. But I was so early in asking for information about it. I found that people who want a year abroad usually don’t decide they do until their second year and that’s when they go fishing for information about it. I remember how all the staff I spoke to about it kept thinking I was a second-year student because I was so early in inquiring about it. Some of them even told me to come back next year and ask the same thing. I was told to start inquiring about the year abroad as soon as I come back after summer for my second year. So fast forward one year and then I return to uni with my head in game. I asked about the second year and I was introduced to a man I will call… Mr. M. The ultimate trouble maker. Mr. M seemed to be in charge of the program for work abroad and study abroad and all the little global experience schemes my uni had. I could tell things were starting to go into motion when I was sent to the big office for the organisation of these global schemes and when I spoke to Mr. M about what I wanted to do, he seemed nice and all and told me that he has yet to upload the application forms for the schemes, so all I needed to do was go away, sit and wait (or do my uni work) and twiddle my thumbs waiting for him to send me the link to the forms. He said I should wait about two weeks. Nothing came in my university email. I probably went back to him again because I was so eager [to go to the Promised Land!] but he told me to wait some more because he still hadn’t gotten round to doing it. Looking at my uni email account, I can tell you, I did not receive one email from Mr. M throughout that entire semester. I remember having to go back to that office, having to leave sometimes because Mr. M wasn’t there and sometimes having to wait half-an-hour or more because Mr. M was having an elaborate conversation about unnecessary things while I was waiting to ask him questions. He finally showed me where to go on the uni website to access the form that I would need – even though he said he would simply send me the link the first time I saw him. Of course I found problems on the application (story of my life – problems, problems, problems): Mr. M had told me, I had two options for universities. I could apply to go to Yonsei or Hanyang. After much research and deliberation, I decided Hanyang would be the best choice for me, personally. However, after all of that, the form didn’t even list Hanyang as an option. I went to Mr. M about this problem a few times and he said he would fix the form. However, the deadline was drawing close and Mr. M just wasn’t cooperating. Hanyang still wasn’t showing up as an option so I had no choice but to choose Yonsei as the only option available for a university in South Korea and send the form off.
That was my first taster of all the problems that I was going to face after that.
You see, the entire process from September 2013 up until now was like being in the eye of the storm. It’s calm; it’s all fine and dandy; I had all these plans in my mind of what I was going to do in Korea; all these thoughts about what it was going to be like but at the same time, through all of that because of my past failures/ almost failures I had this overwhelming feeling that everything was going to go wrong; that I was going to be fully exposed to storm. After all, what did I have to go off of. It’s like my entire life just hadn’t worked out right. Every moment I lived wasn’t where I had planned to be. The worse thing was that this was the final opportunity, my last chance to go to Korea for a year and study Korean at a university, which was all I wanted. It was my one dream.
Mr. M insisted and insisted even without my asking that I would get the place I wanted, which was to study Korean. So, I believed him. I trusted him with that insistence even though he wasn’t interested at all in what course I wanted to do or whatever I wanted to do when I was abroad, just as long as I went. In fact, at a lecture he held near the end of the second year to get people to join the global schemes at the last minute, he told all of us that he did not care what we did in these foreign countries just as long as we went. It doesn’t make sense. Why would he not care? Why would he insist I would definitely get a place and not even make sure that the course that I claim I want to do even exists? He literally ships students off all the time without a single care and he gets money from it!
In the second semester, I finally received news that my application to the study abroad program had been successful, so that waiting was over. But there was more waiting to come. I had to wait to actually get my place at Yonsei University KLI to study Korean. Oh! One thing I forgot to mention was that I told Mr. M plenty of times via email and in person that I wanted to go to Korea in June rather than September. That was just so that I could basically come back to the UK after my study abroad and spend the entire 3 months of summer at home in the UK relaxing with no work to do before my final year of uni commenced. Mr. M told me again and again that this decision was fine and that he would email Yonsei that I will be beginning my course in June (25th) rather than September. Keep that in mind.
Going to Korea went from being a far off achievement after the end of my second year to being something that I would do in just a few months when 2015 started to roll on. Time was ticking, June was getting closer and closer and it wasn’t until the end of April until I finally got some acknowledgement of my existence from the team at my university after inquiring. Surely, it couldn’t have been right that I hadn’t even heard back from my own university let alone the one that I was going to be attending in South Korea at this point. But I had no idea. I had never done this before. I was doing my research. I was telling my parents the play-by-play all the time. I was telling everybody because everybody was asking. It was 23rd of April that I finally got some information. Mr. M basically had to be told by someone else in his team that I needed to know what the heck was going on. He told me, he nominated me to study at Yonsei and the people at Yonsei have known about this for several weeks. I found out it was of course true. However, looking back at this time… why was I – the student who was going to start her course less than two months from then – grouped in with other students that were going to start their courses five months from then. They had plenty of time to be admitted on to their course and what not but me? The whole situation was clearly mishandled, looking back. It was scary and as you can imagine it got more and more scary as the date June 25th drew closer and closer and not much was happening. Finally, still within the month of April, I was contacted by Yonsei (!!) by email and was told to fill in and send off the form for being an exchange student. This was the first time I was hearing of being an exchange student as I thought I’d just be an international student but I filled it in as quickly as I could because I was literally given like 2 days to do it and of course their dead line was at 4pm (midnight KST). My application was sent off and I was told by Yonsei that I needed to give them my transcript of results through post! Then, when they received it they would send me the form I need to apply for my D-4 visa through the post. I knew that entire process would take a long time since South Korea is practically on the other side of the world so I was basically biting my nails off at this point because I knew the deadline for applying for accommodation was approaching so soon.
There was stupid hold ups like Yonsei saying I needed to send my transcript of results through my uni or it wouldn’t count. So I sent it to Mr. M via email and he told me to send it to the uni directly from me. So I did that and it was accepted (I swear this process took over a week, maybe two). It was during that time that I missed the deadline for accommodation of course and by then I was ready to walk out of a tall window and fall a few stories. But due to my God-given optimism, I promptly began looking at apartments in the Sinchon area with a falsified smile that soon served me well as I began to quite like the idea of having a place all to myself. A place where I could cook whatever I liked and no one would steal my food; a place where I could walk around in my underwear if I wanted to; a place where I could invite people over; a place with no rules. The thought of that comforted me until the point where it was nearing the last week of May and I still hadn’t had my place at Yonsei KLI explicitly confirmed yet, especially as my dad was pushing me to contact the uni on what was going on. He also contacted both Mr. M a few times and internationally phoned Yonsei really early in the morning a few times to get information. All of this rubbed in the idea of the ‘eye of the storm’ concept that I already felt. Things were not okay. I just couldn’t feel the full force of it yet.
On May 29th, Yonsei emailed me saying that they received all my necessary materials and that my file was being processed. I didn’t need “processed”, I needed, “Your place on Yonsei KLI regular program is secured”. That’s all I wanted. That’s all I needed.
I contacted Yonsei to make sure that they knew I was even going in June rather than September because there was this cloud above me 24/7 saying everything was going to fall apart and that was going to the first part of it. I contacted the Office of International Affairs and they told to contact the KLI office, so I did. When I emailed KLI that I had applied for a place there starting June 25th, they replied saying my name wasn’t even on their system. Of course! Cruel cruel twisted fate. My dad pushed me to make an international phone call to Yonsei as that would be quicker than emailing (especially with the different time zones. I would send an email one day and wake up to a reply the next day). I stayed up and ended up phoning them from 1am to 3am as their office hours at that time were 9am to 11am. I had to make a few phone calls as I was directed to different people and different offices and there were few problems but what I found out was KLI did not have me on their system at all; they had not heard of me and the Office of International Affairs did not know I was going to be coming in June for the exchange program I had applied for was strictly for beginning in their Fall semester. There was no record on their system that I was going to be coming in June. Bad news after bad news after bad news. I felt so defeated. I believe I’d never felt so defeated in my life. I had gone through troubles earlier on in my life in relation to travelling to Korea and going to university where I felt that I was stuck in a pit so deep that I might as well just kill myself because there was no way I was getting out of it. But upon learning of this and savouring it that morning and lying in bed that night (because I could obviously not get any sleep that night), I just felt so defeated that I literally gave up on everything. I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I didn’t care. I was completely 100% defeated.
My mother came to talk to me when I got up in the morning and I told her what I’d found out. I had a talk with both my parents. I tried to keep that falsified smile on my face that actually makes me more optimistic. Neither of my parents encouraged me. My mother made me feel worse but she was just taking in what I was explaining to her. My dad told me to call Mr. M and see if there was any chance that the uni could still have some weight with getting me into Yonsei KLI. As otherwise I would have to do a main campus course (potentially in Korean – a language I definitely don’t understand to such a high academic level). I phoned Mr. M and told him about how I phoned the Yonsei offices. He told me not to phone them because I need everything on email so it can be on record. Fair enough but calling is quicker when you’re in need of urgent information. He told me to email the Office of International Affairs saying how I have been trying to contact both offices that I would like to be an exchange student at KLI but there’s been some back and forth lack of cooperation. Yonsei promptly emailed me back apologising for any misunderstanding and that my uni does not have a mutual agreement on KLI exchange.
With that last piece of bad news, I decided there was nothing more I could do than to go through the process of preparing for the next few months for a start in the fall semester to do something I have no clue about. I have no access to any course list until I have log in information and I don’t know when I’ll get that. It hardly matters though because the bottom line is… that’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to go to Yonsei KLI and do the regular program beginning in the summer and carry that on for a year. But like everything else in my life, it didn’t work out. It went through what seemed a slow and painful death but the reality was that it was never a real opportunity to begin with because Mr. M had no interest in what I wanted to do in Korea so he let me sign up to something I didn’t even want to do.
From applying for this university and enrolling onto this English course with the sandwich year abroad the opportunity to go to Yonsei KLI to participate in the regular program was never even there and that’s all I ever wanted. To study Korean at a Korean university.
It was so bad because I literally told everyone I know (which is like 1000 people) that I was going to Korea and I talked to so many people about what I was going to do that summer when I went there and all sorts but my high profile trip to Korea was postponed.
BUT, I am finished in complaining. My depression is behind me. I feel happy now, I swear. I feel good everyday now. I get up, and I have a good, productive, fulfilling day. And my attitude was literally an overnight change. He picked me up out of a deep and dark, horrible place. Now I am living a better life. I had friends of family that prayed for me and showed their support. I’m really grateful for this.
That’s my story and the entire story of travelling to Korea is not over until I go there and complete my trip there. That would be one hell of a story to tell. I swear, after going through all these struggles – struggles that pre-date this story; ones that I haven’t shared – I will truly make the most out of any time I spend in South Korea.