Guest Post: Visiting Asia for the First Time (Pre-departure)

This blog post was written by Jennifer Arnold, Rachel’s close friend and sophomore year roommate. She is a Computer Science and History double major at Macalester and is currently studying abroad this Spring semester at the University of Edinburgh in the UK. 

If you are a new reader to Rachel’s blog, let me warmly introduce myself. Hi, my name is Jennifer Arnold aka Rachel’s close friend that she is warmly welcomed as one of my potato siblings in my potato family. More on this later. We met during our first year of college at Macalester, where I thought that Rachel was extremely smart and athletic at first. Only one of those turned out to be true, which is great because it’s one of the many things we ended sharing in common, forming the bond that we have now.

One of the earlier photos of Jennifer during her first year at Mac.

I am currently on a plane going to visit South Korea and Hong Kong while also reuniting with Rachel after her semester abroad. I will also be going abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland this upcoming semester so we are treating this trip as a “hi/bye” kind of ordeal.

Rachel has assigned me a series of questions she would like me to answer which would also help me pass time on the plane since I get bored easily (is odd to say I got bored of sleeping?). I’ve divided them up and answered each one separately. Apologies for any odd phrases:

Travel buddies since March 2016

 How do you feel about going to Asia for the first time?

To be very honest, I’m feeling a mix of emotions. In the forefront would be a twinge of sadness. I am missing Christmas, New Year, and my mother’s birthday during this trip. Since I live away from home, I don’t get the chance to visit my family, and it’s odd to come back and see how much older my entire family is getting. I love Christmas (I’m one of those people who starts playing Christmas music before Halloween is over, much to the annoyance of Rachel) and it’s kind of perplexing to imagine spending it without my family.
I feel unprepared for what is about to happen. I’m one of those individuals who feels secure after doing hours and hours of research before a trip. Unfortunately, due to finals, I wasn’t able to prepare much at all. Since my flight departed from Chicago, I spent the eve of the trip frantically packing, checking out of my dorm, and enduring a six hours car ride by myself from campus to Waukegan, IL. Hence, I didn’t start packing for this trip until four hours before my flight departed so I’m also just bit frazzled.
And this leads to my next emotion: denial. I’m in utter denial. I have barely registered that I am about to go to Asia for the first time to be honest. It’s not to say that I haven’t been counting down the days to this trip (mostly because Rachel had the honor of reminding me on Facebook and KakaoTalk); I have always been very excited. Even now, I catch myself smiling because it feels so surreal. But I’m expecting this excitement to go on full force sometime soon. While that occurs, I’m just sitting here on a very numb butt.
And this leads to my next emotion: denial. I’m in utter denial. I have barely registered that I am about to go to Asia for the first time, to be honest. It’s not to say that I haven’t been counting down the days to this trip (mostly because Rachel had the honor of reminding me on Facebook and KakaoTalk); I have always been very excited. Even now, I catch myself smiling because it feels so surreal. But I’m expecting this excitement to go on full force sometime soon. While that occurs, I’m just sitting here on a very numb butt.
And finally, I’m very hungry. Not just with food, but to learn. I’m about to explore and step into a completely unique culture; I will be interacting with it every single day. Throughout this trip, I’m hoping to be present in the moment. I know I will be lost majority of the time due to the language barriers I have already begun to encounter but I’m experiencing my own little existential crisis: as humans, we speaking hundreds of various languages and here is one where I have no idea how to speak or read (with the exception of milk, go figure) and this is just so cool.
Any thoughts about visiting Korea specifically?
I’m nervous. Within Asia and Korea specifically, I haven’t gotten the chance to do much research before even though I am a History major. I only know what others have shared and what is available online, which I’m aware is never 100% accurate. Yet, one thing I am aware of is how homogenous Korea can be. Growing up in a homogenous community myself, I became hyper-aware of my background and identity whenever I leave Waukegan. This means I unconsciously survey the room whenever I am in a new space to see if I can find others who look like me. As a Honduran American, my background most definitely affects how others interact with me, and I’ve always been aware of it. I think I’m most nervous about being othered. Yes, I am a foreigner, but what does it mean to be a foreigner who is not the blonde, blue-eyed American version most of the world believes to entail? How will this mindset affect my experience of how I view Korea. I am hyper-aware of my thoughts on this matter and probably will be observant on how these views change or not.
What about Hong Kong, especially since it’s Rachel’s childhood home?
I know more about Hong Kong historically due to my confusion of the relations between Britain, Hong Kong, and China and it being Rachel’s childhood home. Rachel and I spent many late nights sharing our childhood experiences with each other our sophomore year, and I loved hearing her recall the various locations in Hong Kong and the memories attached to it. I’m eager to understand Hong Kong more, and there is less of a language barrier there I believe. I’m unsure of how this would translate to my overall experience but I feel safer being independent if that makes any sense.
How do you think it will be similar/different to Rachel’s visit to Waukegan?

Similarities:

  • We are going to be stuck with each other 24/7. People assume we are used to this since we lived with each other our sophomore year, but the thing is that we don’t usually see each other until late at night. We have different interest, majors, classes, and jobs, so our we don’t get to cross paths in the day unless something is on both of our Google calendars.
  • One of us will be the expert or host, and the other will just be very confused and heavily reliant on the other. While Rachel is fluent in Spanish in my eyes, at home, she had to be in “Spanish mode” in order to capture everything around her. When it was too early in the day, there were a lot of moments where she would turn around and stare at me for help/translation. With our roles reversed, I’m fully expecting to need translation in everything.
  • We’re gonna spend a lot of money. Enough said.

Differences:

  • I’m basically going to be Rachel on this trip.
  • Language, food, transportation.
  • We won’t know anyone in the country really if anything should happen. While my parents were literally a phone call away, Rachel and I need to rely on each other now.

Do you have any expectations for Korea or Hong Kong?

  • Good food
  • A lot of packed days
  • Me being surprised about a million small things each day
  • Trying to fend off napping

Since this is a pre-trip blog, there is a huge chance Rachel and I will be consistently reflecting on our days over mealtime. And us sharing our thoughts here too. Until then…

 

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2 Comments

  1. April 17, 2018 / 9:58 pm

    It’s always fun going somewhere new, different cultures, languages, food. But those things help us grow. Can’t wait to hear stories about your trip!

  2. suchi
    April 18, 2018 / 2:00 pm

    Its always fun to travel to new places, gain new experiences and explore new cultures!!

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