Airports can be both the most depressing and the happiest places on Earth. In the past two weeks, I’ve been on the former side twice. I left Romania in the middle of October and, 12 days later, I find myself 30,000 feet in the air again. This time, though, I am not leaving a person that I love, and I’m not going home to see my family and friends for the first time in 13 months: this time, I’m heading off to be completely and utterly alone. After hitchhiking, cycling, rafting, and everything else that I’ve done for the past year, I’m broke as a joke with student loan companies and debt collectors on my six. Because of this, I had to make a very difficult decision. I knew that I did not want to stay at my parents’ house and that I wanted to keep seeing the world. I had taught English in Turkey for six months, so I knew how easy it could be to get a teaching job abroad.
And it was easy. After a 20 minute Skype call, I was offered a job at a foreign language academy in Seogwipo, a city on the beautiful South Korean island of Jeju. With good money, minimal hours, free accommodation, and free flights as long as you stay for one year, it’s a pretty solid deal. My boss even told me that I could bring my dog! I anticipated how low I’d be feeling after leaving my heart in Europe, and the thought of having my lovable pup with me to snuggle was the only thing that I thought would keep me from plunging into loneliness-I haven’t been alone for a VERY long time, and have never lived by myself in a foreign country, so having my best furry friend with me seemed like the best kind of comfort. For three months, I borrowed hundreds of dollars for paperwork, veterinary visits, and notarization of documents by the USDA (thanks again for all your help, Ma). A week before I was set to leave, I found out that my boss had booked me on an airline that does not accept animals from the U.S. (*FYI: Do not fly Singapore Airlines from the U.S. if you want to take a pet). Needless to say, I was crushed. I contacted at least ten pet travel companies, but after receiving a quote of $5000, I knew that hope was lost. I did contact my new boss and even a co-worker in a final attempt to get what I was promised, but I got the exact response that I had expected: “Sorry”.
After 18 hours of flight, three hours of layover at SFO, and a 30 minute delay, I found myself beyond jetlagged, sprinting from the Incheon-Gimpo train with 10 minutes to catch my final flight to Jeju. Out of breath and dripping sweat all over the place, I dragged my two 50 lb bags (a girl needs her shoes) to the counter, feeling like I just might make it. “The gate has been closed”, or at least that’s what I assume she said, since it was in rapid Korean. Two hours of taxi rides, one wrong hotel, numerous burps and farts from the drivers, $110, and a whole bunch of Koreans shouting later, I’m crawling into bed at what I believe is called a “love motel” (based on the complimentary condoms, lighter, and ashtray on the bedside table) in Seoul. I’ll complete the final leg of my trip tomorrow afternoon, after some much needed sleep in the bed with no sheets; I might even amuse myself with the mood lighting adjuster on the wall.
I’m embarking on this journey alone, with my heart and my hound left behind and having to settle for my favorite blanket instead. It was not my first or even second choice, and I fully believe now that I made a mistake in leaving a situation that I was truly happy with 12 days ago. Unfortunately, I made the decision and financial obligation six years ago, when I chose to go to the university that I did (yeah, Dad, I know you’re shaking your head now). Now, I must deal with the consequences of that and pull myself up by the boot straps. Hopefully the next year will be full of amazing memories, though it definitely cannot compete with the last one. Judging by my first day, I’m fairly certain that it won’t be uneventful. I hope there will be more great new people, places, and food along the way, while I try to figure out what the hell to do in this crazy thing called “life”.
My new adventure starts now.
Hang on tightly there Leah, we are going to be with you once again, being inspired, listening, learning and supporting you in your new adventures!
Many hugs, from Brazil
Eleonora & Leo: thanks so much for the kind words. Hopefully I’ll have happy things to write about again soon!
I don’t know about Jeju specifically, but you might be able to foster a puppy from a nearby shelter. Look for it! Nothing can replace your own pup, but another (temporary) puppy could give it a shot, at least. ?
Sally- Thanks for the advice. A few people have suggested that I do this, so maybe I’ll look into it. However, it’s not the same as having my dog that I’ve had for 3 years. Tough decisions and the life of a traveler!
I’ve been living in Korea (Busan and Ulsan) for over 2 1/2 years now. I’m not sure what life is like on Jeju, but I’ve been twice and it’s really beautiful and there’s soooo much to do! Hope you enjoy your time in Korea.
Thanks for the insight. I’m hoping it works out for me, too. Just a little nervous for the first time in a long time!
My boyfriend is a vegetarian too. We cook a lot at home. You should try iherb.com. They ship to Korea for cheap.
Meagan- thanks for the tip!
Yeah it’s great. Shipping to Korea is usually about $4. It’s seriously my favorite website. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll send you a coupon code.
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I always wondered what it was like to teach and live on Jeju. The island never really won me over if I’m honest, but I hear the community of teachers there is small and everyone gets along really well!
Lily- so far so good in Jeju. It does seem like a tight knit community, I don’t know how I feel about the island yet haha. We shall see!
Haha I know the feeling (kind of) since I live on Geoje Island. We always refer to it as “the island”, and although we have one bridge that connects us to Busan now, it still feels like I’m trapped on the island sometimes! Good luck! ?
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