First times

by Sinead Lazarus (South Africa)

A leap into the unknown Korea South


My heart was beating like a drum in my chest. My hands were soaking wet from the sweat pouring out of them. There was a gentle breeze blowing around the sound of laughter, cheering, talking and cars. I sat down on the floor and looked around at my empty apartment and for the first time I realized that I was alone. Completely, utterly alone. In a foreign country where hardly anybody spoke the same language as me, alone. South Korea. The bubbly, fast paced, rich in culture country that has managed to keep a safe and amicable distance from it's towering neighbors, this was my new home. The people would stare in amazement and the children would giggle. My fellow co-workers would whisper and then smile. I could feel the intrigue growing in their eyes as they brushed up the courage to walk up to me and practise their Englsh skills. I was nervous at the first but as time progressed I realised that the whispers, giggles, staring and pointing was all apart of the amazing journey that is South Korea. I took this opportuinity to get to know my co-workers. The little markets where they would buy their vegetables. The stunning antique stores where you could buy pretty much any furniture item or souvenir. The big chain restuarants in the major cities like Seoul and Busan but also the hidden gems in the hidden corners of Dangjin and Gwangju. My favourite thing of all was the coffee culture. Cafe's found everywhere, sometimes more than two on one street. With menues constantly changing and increases as the seasons do. Cherry blosom coffees, christmas coffees, halloween, white day, pepero day and of course valentines day coffee. I found myself searching for cafes in every city, wherever I went in South Korea. The tellers were always friendly, the pastries were not top class, but perfect for an afternoon snack and the people would contently sit and do whatever they wanted. Friends talking about work and family issues. Collegues having an afternoon meeting. An old woman, just wanting to gget out the house. School students, having a cold drink before they begin their homework or after school lessons and the foreign teachers, sitting around and enjoying each others company. Building friendships and swaping school stories as we created traditions. As small and insignificant as finding cafe's may appear to be, this became at least a weekly outing that myself and my freinds would do. We would meet at a different cafe and talk for hours. We would play games and order food and just be there. In the moment. Living on your own in a strange country for the first time can be overwhelming and frightening, but these small cafes that each have their own theme, these pastries that were unfrozen rather than freshly prepared, these people and their daiy lives revolving around a cup of coffee, are the millions of small things that made the two years I lived in South Korea that much more momentous for me. South Korea is a beauitful counrty, full of rich history and culture which is activley celebrated everywhere and all the time, but it was also my first home away from home. I love this counrty and even with the big tourist attractions like Gangnam, the Palace, the ski resorts, Busan beach and the SKT (Train) I will always be grateful for having the chance to experience and fully emerce myself in this amazing country and its coffee addictions.