On March 12, 2000, I was looking around the duty free shops with wet eyes, at Kimpo International Airport. I had just said, good-bye, to my family. I was all alone.
Leaving them was my decision, but frankly, I was very afraid. After returning from a trip to Europe during summer vacation in 1999, I decided to make my dream come true. I had wanted to test, and practice my English where it was spoken fluently. I also wanted to be a person rich in experience. I yearned to know how strong I was by surviving in a new environment! That’s why I lived in London from last March to this January, about 10 months total.
On the day I arrived in London, it was very warm. I managed to find the house by myself, which I booked in Korea. When I got there, my host family, (an old Irish couple), was having dinner. We talked for a while, but I couldn’t do it for long. I was totally exhausted, and nervous, after 11 hours of flight.
With tears and fears of being alone in a strange place, along with insufficient funds, (I only brought about 3 million won), I was drained. After the stingy host lady took me to my room, and told me some rules, I couldn’t do anything but wash and go to bed.
The next day, I went to school with an Italian guy who was staying in the same house, and studying at the same school. My teacher was named ‘Kuldeep,’ with a full beard, and turban. He spoke so fast that I couldn’t understand him at all.
I wasn’t satisfied with him, but later, I came to like him because I knew that he was such a good teacher. After a week, I started to look for a new place to stay, since living with this host family was more than I could afford. It took lots and lots of walking to find an inexpensive room.
Finally, the first saturday of April, I moved out of the Irish house. My new residence housed an intelligent Pakistani family. My room couldn’t be smaller, but the house was ok, and the family was good. There was a 196 cm, tall, Chinese guy who was my junior by 3 years in my class. He was working at Pizza Hut near Hyde Park. He knew that I was looking for a job, so he introduced me to his boss.
I filled out an application form and the boss asked me some questions. After that, she gave me 3 hours to work as a trial. When I finished, she said my English wasn’t good enough and it could cause trouble. She gave me a complicated menu, and told me to study it. Then she would test me. I needed to pass the test to prove my ability to work there.
My self-confidence was hurt, and I wanted to give up, but I couldn’t. So I learned the menu by heart and went to the manager again. I didn’t do very well, but she hired me anyway. My wage was 3.7 pound/hour + tip. On my way home, I felt like flying! At the beginning of my work as a waitress, I was often disappointed with my English. Customers, they wanted every different pizza. I even met a man who wanted a pizza without cheese!
When they ordered, they spoke very fast. I really had difficulty communicating with them as well as my co-workers, who spoke much faster than the customers. They also enjoyed saying slang words such as 4-letter words starting with f. I especially couldn’t understand Irish guys and black people. Also, whenever I got tips from my customers, I felt strange. It was hard for me to work 25 hours a week. I became so tired and lonely.
At the beginning of my stay in London, whenever I saw airplanes flying, I would almost cry and think, “They can take me home.” As time went by, I started to adapt, and learned new systems and made friends. I called home once a week. Mid May, my father told me to take my luggage from his co-worker, who was coming to London for biz. But on that day, I had to work, so I was about one and a half hour late.
When I returned home and opened the door, I could see an Asian man sitting inside, and when I closed the door, my father was standing behind it!!! I couldn’t believe my eyes!!!!!! He didn’t tell me about his visit to make me surprised. He brought some Kimchi, and my clothes. He and his co-worker were leaving soon as their destination was Brandford, south of London. I decided to accompany them.
On our way to Brandford, there was such a heavy fog, it was one of the most beautiful scenes I’d ever seen. Still, being with my Dad was like a dream to me. I accompanied him to his meeting, saying I was training related to my studies. To be honest, it was his idea. We stayed there for 3 days and then flew to their next destination, Stutgart, Germany.
After 3 days, I had to leave my father and return to London, I didnt even cry! Perhaps I had grown up during the past 2 months? Anyway, it was the happiest moment in my life, so far. Time passed like that; sometimes happy, sometimes stressful. From time to time, I felt the cultural gap, and realized Korea is such a humble country, compared to the rest of the world.
Once, I traveled with a friend from UOS, to Scotland, which has the most beautiful scenery in Britain. One day in June, I went to Belgium for the weekend, by night bus, with a Spanish, and a Polish girl, who are still my best friends from London. Sometime in August, I visited the Lake District by myself for the first time.
It is north of England, and one of the most popular holiday destinations in the UK. August came. I had planned to stay there until mid August, but I thought my English hadn’t improved at all. I couldn’t stop there, so I extended my stay. I was looking forward to going back home, but I had to develop my English much more.
I had to go on. Now, when I recall my time in London, I cannot say it was easy. I don’t regret my decision, and would say, the biggest thing I got there, was realizing how precious my people are to me, and how much my parents love me. Back in daily life it was the same as before. I wonder, if I hadn’t experienced it, I would never know what I am capable of doing. Also, I became a disillusioned traveler.
I always had an illusion about living abroad, but now I see people live more or less in the same way. For me, Korea is the best country to live in because I’m used to its culture, and there are people I love. People also understand me, because we share the same cultural background. I know someday, I will really understand the profound impact this experience had on me. Until then, I’m glad I’m home!