My First Impressions of Jeju, Jeju, South Korea
Like being hit by the infamous Apple itself, it came upon me one snowy evening in February to stray from my midnight essay writing routine and check the latest Facebook reel on the subject of ESL Teachers in Korea. Only two advertisements into my inspection, the words “Seeking Replacement Teacher for Position on Jeju Island” immediately seized my romantic heart and simultaneously thrust it into a swift commitment to international travel. Countless daydreams, e-mails, blogs, and Skype-talks later, the unpalatable task of connecting the American Indian Movement with the Vietnam War became but a trifling setback in my newly tailored plan for escape; three short weeks following my University graduation, I was due to arrive on Jeju-do, South Korea.
For most of us, the path we follow to reach our respective “Point B’s” is an unnerving one. In my case, the vision of Jeju that overwhelmed my senses—the sky blue waters, the marketplaces, the communion of travellers, and the challenge of teaching—was (necessarily) stifled by the administrative gore of visa processing and the reality of saying “so long” to normalcy, at least, for a little while. As a novice explorer, my anxieties, my excitement, and my unfettered imagination got the better of me; the June days I spent in Toronto, Ontario awaiting my visa interview, for instance, seemed an eternity. But all of the anticipation did meet a marvellous end, eventually.
Paperwork and interviews
Ushered into a marble-floored room in an exotic, eighteenth century home, I sat down on an unmarked bench gazing into the faces of a dozen visa applicants. With some trepidation, I followed three people into a pre-screening lounge that was only two sets of curtains and one boardroom away from the man who had the power to validate my future plans. After ten minutes of being seated before a great oak table, a bright Korean flag, a blinding light, and a raft of leather bound books, I lifted my head to hear “Jeju Island is one of the most beautiful places in Korea. Many tourists flock there to enjoy the scenery and the calm. You will be happy.” One hour later, my passport was adorned with a seal of approval: an authentic E2 Visa stamp.
Packing and arriving
Packing hope away into the crevices of my shoes, the wrinkles of my clothes, and in between my choice selection of toothpastes, soaps, medications, and toiletries without delay, I then endeavoured to say my farewells and prepare for a twenty-one hour journey abroad. With a lot of luck, I experienced the company of dynamic, open-minded people on my flight, as a woman destined for Whitehorse, a mother and son flying back to their native Thailand, and a beautiful long-term Jeju resident fuelled my virtually inexhaustible sense of adventure and love for the island I now call home. Situated above the clouds, I never imagined that my first glance at the mania of Jeju’s drivers, Oreum silhouettes, or the taste of humid, Jeju air would be so convalescent. As first impressions go, I am sure this one one will lend to an incredible postscript.