SEOUL: Second honeymoon

I remember going to the St. Edward’s study abroad orientation last November. For a few hours one afternoon, every student studying abroad in the spring gathered in a room to hear stories and advice about living in a foreign country. All of us were warned of the first few weeks in our new country, accurately described as the “honeymoon phase.”

That’s when everything is so exotic and different that you’re absolutely enamored with every facet of life abroad– all the interesting food, unfamiliar skylines, and more new acquaintances than you can count. But after the honeymoon phase, they told us, “crash back to reality.” You then start to notice things you don’t exactly like about your new country, or maybe start to get homesick, or have trouble truly adjusting to a new culture.

I was prepared for both these phases, and I’d like to think I lived through these past few months without any sort of emotional breakdown or melodramatic wallowing. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was a return to that initial excitement– a second honeymoon.

Maybe it’s because I know I’m leaving soon (a bit too soon, honestly). Maybe it’s all the free time I have now that my duties as a T.A. are over for the semester. But lately it seems like I’ve fallen in love with Seoul all over again, even after having crashed back to reality.

Last weekend, my friend and I decided to go to the Coex Aquarium, in Gangnam. It’s a pretty big aquarium located underground, in what is technically a subway station. Yes, in addition to subway tracks and convenience stores, the massive Coex Mall includes the aquarium, designer stores, food courts, a movie theatre, and even a kimchi museum. It’s currently undergoing renovations, too, so I can only guess it’s expanding even more.

Walking through the overwhelming network of hallways toward the aquarium, I felt like a giddy first-week tourist all over again. I wanted to take pictures of everything (a Justin Timberlake poster, a restaurant sign, some random little kid with a funny balloon) and go into every store (hair bow boutique, K-pop gift shop, ritzy toy store). I wasn’t thinking about the homework I had to do, or the errands I had to run. I was completely blissful floating around a foreign country and taking in as much as I could.

For the next two weeks, I’ve already made a list of the places I still need to visit. I want to see the landmark Namsan tower, historic Insadong, and another royal palace. I want to shop in Hongdae and Idae and Bupyeong and basically come back to America dirt poor but with a ton of cute accessories.

I know part of me will be happy to go home when the time comes. It’ll be nice to be able to blend in at a restaurant, read the buttons on the laundry machines, and generally eat more things drenched in cheese. But this past week took me back to the days of sitting in my Austin dorm room fangirling over K-pop music videos and learning the Korean alphabet, completely beside myself with excitement. I like that feeling, and I know it’ll be hard to leave behind.