Written and photographed by Adam Travis
I drifted in and out of sleep next to Brianna as our bus rolled towards Gwangju. Outside, thunderstorms raged and lit up the horizon with bolt after bolt of lightning. I had been listening to the same half-dozen albums for the last 18 hours. Each song had gone from an individual track to becoming part of the background din of transit – harmonizing with the whine of a jet turbine or the rumble of an express bus.
We met our supervisor, Elly, at the bus terminal three hours later. She drove us across town to our apartment, past row upon row of buildings covered in lights. As they streaked past my window, a sentence from my friend, Junha, was stuck in my head. “People will be saying they need more power stations,” he said, before I left, “but you’ll be blinded by all the neon lights.” Whether or not he was right about the energy impact of those lights, there sure were a lot of them.
We rounded a final corner as Elly muttered a set of directions to our apartment I would shortly forget. I stepped out of the car and onto the quiet, muggy street, then lugged our four suitcases up a flight of stairs and into our new apartment. After lying on the floor with the air conditioner set to “turbo,” I fell asleep using the neck pillow I’d bought for the flight. It was August 28, our first night in Korea.
Brianna had brought up teaching almost a year earlier. Neither of us had set plans after graduation; we both knew people who had taught in Korea before and the prospect of free rent and cheap food was as appealing to me as it would be to any university student. But during the first week, eating ramen on the floor until we found a grocery store, sleeping on our airplane neck pillows, my head was full of doubts. Was this a good idea? Can I even teach? Will this place ever feel familiar?
I like to sound out signs as I roll past them on the bus. My girlfriend usually laughs, or more often, asks what I’m mumbling to myself. We’ve been in Korean lessons for three months; I’m nowhere near fluent, but I’m to the point that I have enough words to get me through my awkward English–Korean interactions at convenience store counters. The weather dips below freezing most nights and while our battle against the heat has ended, we spent the last week attempting to rid our apartment of moisture to fend off any mold.
I no longer have to stare at my phone for the length of my commutes, keeping an ear out for what might be my stop. The storefronts along our walk to school are as familiar as the chime of our apartment door’s keypad. The dog in the apartment across the hall doesn’t bark when he hears our footsteps.
They seem mundane because they are, but it’s these small details in an everyday routine that make a place feel like home.
Adam Travis is an English teacher in Gwangju. Adam is originally from New Brunswick, Canada and can usually be found behind a camera when he’s not in front of a classroom.