We are moving to South Korea. What? I asked in shock; I thought it was America. How did South Korea come into the picture? Is that a country? Where is South Korea? What kinds of people live there? Those were the questions I bombarded my parents with when they broke the news to my brother and I. Initially they had told us that we were moving to Houston, Texas and all of a sudden it was Ulsan, South Korea. I was disappointed. Anyone who grew up in Nigeria, know how we Nigerians get excited at the slightest opportunity to go abroad, and even more excited if it is the United States.
At a restaurant in Ulsan, South Korea.
We grew up watching their shows like Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Full House (still my favorite shows to binge on), we watched their movies (titanic), cartoons (like Superman and Spiderman) and listened to their music (hello MJ, Destiny's child, 702, Celine Dion). I always dreamed of how life will be if I ever traveled to the US. Will I meet all the celebrities? Are the streets made of gold? Will I get to dress up in all the cool clothes they had? America was the end all be all for me. My mom studied at the University of Maryland, while my dad was UK trained.
They always shared lots of stories with us about their time abroad, and I looked forward to the day that I would go overseas, but not South Korea. My dad came home one day and announced to the family that we will be moving to Houston. We were so happy; we shared with close friends and family that we were going to be relocating soon. We thanked God for blessing our father with an excellent job that will afford the family the ability to experience life outside of Nigeria. Then a couple of weeks went by, and he came back with the news that it was no longer the US but now South Korea.
Daddy, you are on your own oh, I thought in my head, mommy let him go, and come back occasionally to visit us, I blurted out to my mom later on. After all, we were already used to him not being around (his job took him out for weeks at a stretch). Reluctantly (for me) in July of 2005, we made the trip to Ulsan South Korea. I dreaded that day, but it came eventually. I remember the day we left vividly; I cried because I was leaving the life that I had known for 17 years behind. In as much as I wanted to go to America, I was comfortable in my home in Nigeria. I never really dreamed of the direction my life was about to take.
I left my friends and cousins behind. I was about to go on a journey to a new normal, with just daddy, mommy, and my brother. Although my parents had only two kids, people always lived in the house with us. From family to domestic staff, to friends kids, they all had a spot in the house. The thought of it going to be just four of us was boring to me. But this trip was going to draw us closer to the unit we were supposed to be.
We left for the airport, for the first leg of our trip which was to Frankfurt, Germany. We were going to have a 12-hour layover. So the company arranged for transit visas for us and hotel accommodations, to make the 12-hour stay in Frankfurt enjoyable. The flight from
Port-Harcourt to Frankfurt was relaxing. It was the first time I was on an international trip, and the first time I flew business class. I remember when I was struggling to get the table out of the side of my seat in preparation for my meal, the air hostess got so frustrated with me, asking if I have never flown in my life (haha).
It was my first time (internationally), and I don't blame her for that question. The flight was full of people of different races. White, black, Hispanic and so on. On getting to Frankfurt, when we went to pass through immigration and they denied us entry. The company had obtained the wrong visas for us, so we had to spend the 12 hours at the airport. That was the most extended 12 hours of my life.
Finally, the time came for us to board our flight from Frankfurt to Seoul. That was when reality hit; everyone on the plane was Asian. I had never been among a group of people who looked so similar. We were the only black people on board. It was as if while we were flying, we were on the flight for several days, like we were headed to the Land down under (Australia). I remember seeing day and night time multiple times until we got to our destination.
We eventually found our way to Ulsan, and that was when the adventure of a lifetime began. Our apartment was facing the beach, and we had a fantastic view. Other expatriates lived in the same building as us. Whenever my mom and I went to the open market, the older women followed behind us closely, studying us and reached out to touch our hair. It was amazing! Ulsan was a small city, so I understand if some of them were not familiar with black people, let alone Africans. That was 13 years ago, so things must have changed especially with the rise of social media. I met my lifelong friend in Ulsan, and since then we haven’t gone past a year, without seeing each other.
She is someone I care about and love so much, and I am glad our paths crossed. That was one of the advantages of this detour in my life; I had the opportunity of meeting people, I would have never met. The company often organized weekend getaways and dinners for us. The team of people who moved to Korea to work on the project my dad was a part of, were pretty diverse; there were people from the US, Cambodia, Trinidad & Tobago, and Canada. We often looked forward to the getaways the company organized for us. We explored the surrounding cities close to Ulsan, visited museums and traditional sites of ancient rulers. And loosened up from time to time with Karaoke.
Friends & I on one of our adventures
The Language barrier was real. I remember when my mom and I got lost after a long day of shopping. We went around the whole city of Ulsan. We couldn’t read the signs, anyone we flagged down to ask questions, didn’t quite seem to understand what we were talking about. I think a cop eventually helped us to find our way back home. I am not too sure if Google map was in much use at that time. Thank God we made it back home. My dad went to work every day, and my brother was off to boarding school.
That left enough time for my mom and I to bond. I had already finished high school and was waiting to get into college. I had a whole year to chill at home so we did lots of things together. My mom and I went shopping all the time, visited other expatriate’s families, cooked together and ate out a lot. Korean restaurants had us sitting on the floor. It was the first time I had experienced something like that; they also had the best food, and I looked forward to our casual dinners. I will forever cherish those times, as my mom passed away three years later.
Mommy & Me
I wouldn’t trade my experience in Korea for any other thing in the world. I am forever grateful to God for the opportunity to experience such a different and unique culture. The Koreans are one of the nicest people on earth, and if the company didn’t switch the location of our travel, I wouldn’t have this unique experience to share today. I still ended up in the US, one year after we moved to Korea and lived there for 11 years. And Houston? That was 3 hours away from where I went to college, and I was there most of the time. Talk about a full circle. God always knew that I would end up going to the US and rerouted our journey to go through South Korea. Now when I tell people I lived in South Korea, they are so amazed and ask me all sorts of questions. It's a pity I never learned the language, although I know how to greet and say certain things in Korean, that is about it.
I love to travel; it is one of my favorite things to do. So I encourage everyone to try and see the world. Some places are out there waiting to be discovered. You can learn a lot from people of different cultures and races. You will grow as an individual and will become well informed.
I hope you enjoyed my journey to South Korea, and have gotten a little bit more insight about me. Let me know in the comments below, what else you will like to learn about me. Remember to comment, like, share and subscribe if you haven't done so. Thank you for reading!!