My Year in the Military in South Korea
As my 12-month PCS tour in South Korea comes to an end, I look back at all the good and not so good memories that Korea has given me. When graduating from BOLC, I yearned to go abroad to Germany, Italy, or even South America. When I got offered a position in Germany, my branch manager turned it down and told me I was going to South Korea. As tensions rose between South Korea and North Korea at that time, I was not excited to be coming to South Korea. I was extremely nervous and felt like I was in over my head. I remember my first day of PT (physical training) with my new unit, my new First Sergeant asked me if South Korea had been my first choice. I said no, and explained that South Korea wasn't my first choice because why would a mentally sane person want to go to a country that has missiles pointed right at them? No one knew quite what Kim Jung Un was capable of. And with new leadership in South Korea and the United States, we didn't quite know how foreign politics would be handled in the region either. It was a terrifying time to be heading over to South Korea.
I jumped into a position as a Company XO my first week in the 'real Army' trying to grab the reigns and learn as a brand new 2LT. A few months into my first position in the Army, still not knowing what I was doing, and not having learned anything from my field specialty, our new leadership interviewed each of the 2LTs for a new position in another unit. I thought it was funny that our leadership picked ME after learning of all my traveling, moving around, and the fact that I went to Graduate school. She thought I was the most capable of handling change and taking on bigger tasks. What I heard was, "your life has seemed very unstable and challenging, would you like to continue that path?" What was I going to say, no? As a 2LT, in a 1LT position, was asked to take on a CPT position at a new unit. I was actually very excited to go meet new people and actually learn things other than keeping track of vehicles and equipment. It was a blessing in disguise.
My new job was near Gangnam, an hour north of my apartment. The first day I arrived was just before Christmas, it was the first snow fall of the year. That meant everyone that day was just a terrible driver. What should have been one hour with Seoul traffic, ended up taking me FOUR hours to get there. By then, everyone had left for the day, and I had no place to sleep. My new First Sergeant gave me an empty room in the Soldier barracks with no WiFi, which meant no Netflix during the cold half days. Little did I know, that empty room in the Soldier barracks would end up being my room for the next five months. I was denied a room in the Senior Living Quarters because I had an apartment off-post at Camp Humphreys that the Army was paying for, and the Army expected me to commute to Gangnam every day. It was a little lonely and uncomfortable in the Soldier barracks compared to what I was used to. Every morning after PT, I would eat cereal or a bagel at my desk while watching Gilmore Girls or some show on my laptop. I had to eat foods that I could either eat dry or straight out of the fridge since I didn't have a stove or oven. As for the WiFi, I ended up splitting the cost with someone else before they left and then took over the $60 a month even though I had WiFi at home.
On the weekends, I would usually head back down to Camp Humphreys to my apartment. I have a four bedroom apartment, with two bathrooms, a full kitchen, a giant TV, and a balcony. Below are some photos of a Saturday evening with Chasen, Edgar and Edgar's dog Jack in my apartment.
Back at work, it was time for the field. Working in Korea means long days and sometimes long nights. I was working about 16 hour days during the week. Although the field meant a lot of preparation, a lot of working, and very cold weather, I did enjoy it a lot. I got to get to know people pretty well, and I got to spend all my money on the Korean #ajumma and her field restaurant. A giant bowl of the best chicken and rice I've ever had was about USD $6. The field was a great place to get to know the people you work with, it was like mandatory camping with your co-workers.
When I wasn't working, I was either hanging out in Pyeongtaek, checking out Seoul, or traveling. Autumn and Halloween time is by far my favorite time of the year, and I'm pretty sad that Hawaii (where I am moving to) doesn't have autumn. I wanted to enjoy fall and what better place to enjoy the leaves changing colors than #NamiIsland right next to Seoul?! It was beautiful! A little peninsula surrounded by trees and water next to Seoul with ostriches and bunnies running around. I'm gonna miss autumn.
For my birthday, we were also in a field setting. Unlike most people, I love my birthday, and I was pretty bummed I wasn't able to celebrate it. In the morning, my boss brought a box of Little Debbie chocolate cupcakes and a handful of people sang happy birthday to me. About an hour later, the Command Sergeant Major walked in a yelled, "whose snacks are these!? Get these out of my tent!" Gee, can't even have cupcakes for my birthday. Later that evening for dinner I sat with some co-workers in the DFAC, after having piled a piece of cake on my tray for an internal personal celebration of my 25th birthday. Although it was one of the worst birthdays of my life, I was extremely grateful to those who tried to make it somewhat special, who brought me disgusting little cupcakes filled with cancer and who sang to me.
During a four-day weekend, I had invited a few people to go to Japan with me. Little did I know, it was the Olympics United States versus Russia hockey game that weekend. Everyone I had invited to Japan went to the game instead, so I guess it was just me. I booked a cute little hostel during a couple winter festivals in Sapporo, Japan and hopped on a flight by myself. I arrived, it was cold, and the snow was almost as tall as I was. I've traveled by myself before to Slovenia and the Czech Republic, but this trip was different. During this trip, if I'm being honest, it was really fucking lonely. I walked the streets by myself, drank beer at the Sapporo beer museum by myself, and ate a lot of sushi by myself. At the museum, I did try to make friends with some other travelers. One guy started talking to me, him and his sister were from Singapore on a family vacation. It turns out they were looking for weed and that's why they started talking to me. Another guy was from Germany, and when I asked if he wanted to grab dinner, he mentioned that he had plans with another girl from his hostel. He had a girlfriend, and he said in his own words that he was looking forward to playing this girl and seeing her reaction when he tells her that he has a girlfriend. After that girl bailed on him for dinner, he invited me out for drinks, and I said fuck no. Instead, I took a nice long shower, and went to bed. I was exhausted, and was very much looking forward to just relaxing. I don't regret that decision one bit. My attempt to make friends did not work, but it wasn't for my lack of trying, and I had a good night regardless. I learned during this trip that solo traveling is good, but I've had my fair share of it.
Lol, this light festival full of hearts and romantic lighting in the snow wasn't lonely at all.
Back in Korea,
We stole those flowers off of a table at the ball. I also had my mom send me that dress from home specifically for one of the balls with Chasen.
At my new job, I would never have believed that Cal, Tom and I would have been such good friends. They could go on for hours about nerdy games and movies, and politics. We didn't have a ton in common, but I couldn't be more grateful for the friendship we had and the laughter we shared. I didn't get to live there for long, but I met so many amazing people that I hold near and dear to my heart and I'm grateful for having met everyone up there and for them accepting me with open arms. I went into that position terrified, and left having loved every minute of it, the good and the bad. Thank you everyone, who accepted me with open arms and gave me the chance to make the most of a new duty station. I will never forget you guys.
Coming out of a busy time at work, we were exhausted and over worked and hadn't had a four day weekend in a long time. Chasen and I wanted to make our own four day weekend by taking four days of paid leave to go to Busan. A MUCH needed vacation. On our fourth day of leave, a MONDAY, our boss calls us up as our brunch is arriving at our table. "WHERE ARE YOU? IS CHASEN WITH YOU? PUT ME ON SPEAKER PHONE", our boss asked us....And there went our happy vacation. I had mentioned in a conversation we were taking a long weekend to go to Busan, but hadn't mentioned it more than that one time, nor had I sent an official email about it, and he did not remember that brief conversation. "I'm so sorry sir, it will never happen again," I did not argue back. We didn't do anything wrong, but it completely ruined the last day of our leave. Now, I will send emails, and a few reminders.
More leave! Chasen and I spent almost 16 hours planning a two week long trip to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. He agreed to a 10 day trip to South East Asia, which I extended to about 15 days. This was the most extravagant, detailed trip I had ever planned in my life. Three countries and seven cities in a two week trip; flights, trains, hotels, scheduled tours, visas, it all had to match up. If one thing fell through, everything else would too. Chasen and I had just started dating, and he was getting nervous about the planning and I could tell he also wasn't sure about whether or not I was going to be a hot mess on the trip. I could have cared less about his worries about me and the trip, I was just ecstatic to have a travel companion to all these wonderful cities I've always wanted to visit. I was finally going to see Angkor Wat! And it ended up being an amazing trip! Chasen only wandered off a few times, I considered putting a leash on him, but he would have found a way to escape that.
After coming back from our much needed leave, Chasen and I took advantage of every opportunity we could! The Spartan race, 5k runs, 4th of July festivities, restaurants and cafes around Korea, mud festivals, hikes, movies, etc. We tried making the best of our time here in Korea.
And that leaves us at today, with less than a month before I move to Hawaii. South Korea was filled with so many wonderful surprises, and cute little restaurants, bars, and cafes. Korean people are one of the kindest souls on the planet. It is one of the safest countries on the planet, in my opinion too. I absolutely adore South Korea and everything it has to offer me, and I wouldn't have had such an amazing experience here without Chasen by my side. It is with a heavy heart that I leave this beautiful country and Chasen, but there is no more work for me here in Korea and work is what I'm here to do. I'm excited to look forward and meet new people at my new job in Hawaii. And I'm happy to have my best friend, Teresa, by my side in this new chapter in my life. Thank you South Korea, and Chasen, for the best experience of serving in South Korea that anyone could ask for.