In the weeks before my departure to South Korea, where I will be spending the next semester at Ewha Womans University, my stomach was filled with butterflies at the thought of returning to Shinchon-dong, a neighborhood in Seoul that I called home in 2019 when I studied abroad at Yonsei University. I couldn’t wait to revisit my favorite fried chicken and beer spot, to indulge at the dessert shop that took an alarming chunk out of my wallet, and to walk down the quiet streets at night as I returned to my dorm after a long day of exploring.
But not so fast.
To combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic from abroad, all foreign entrants are currently required to quarantine for two weeks after arrival. After 24 straight hours of travel from D.C. to Incheon, South Korea, I was more than ready to crash in my quarantine facility room. It was only the next morning that I realized the grueling length of my isolation was not going to be easy for my restless, extroverted self.
The facility itself wasn’t too shabby, minus a few quirks like the electrical sockets rejecting the international plug converter I had used on my last trip abroad. To my dismay, you have to have a Korean phone number and debit card to order from Korean websites, so I begrudgingly prepared to spend the next two weeks without my laptop. But luckily, after a couple hours of poking around on the internet, I was able to use a proxy shipping service (Trazy is a life-saver) to order a couple new chargers to my hotel room.
The day after my arrival, a quarantine taxi took several of us to get our first PCR test of the two we would have to take during the two-weeks. And let me tell you— Korean COVID-19 tests are brutal! Forget the nice, self-administered nose swabs Temple students have grown accustomed to taking at Mitten hall. At the Seodaemun Health Center, I swear they shoved the test all the way to my brain. It’s even become notorious, as Korean COVID-19 test swab memes have completely taken over my social media pages.
The two weeks dragged on and on, and at some points I felt so frustrated that I would try to take naps to make the time go by faster, which just prolonged my jet lag and gave me a pretty bad case of insomnia. I had to find other ways to creatively get through the long hours of alone time in my tiny hotel room.
Isolation really teaches you to have fun with the little things. Whether it be cracking open the window, listening to the Princess Diaries soundtrack and having a bit of a “main character moment” of self-pity or practicing Korean by clicking through the channels on the hotel’s subtitle-lacking TV, I actually started to have a little bit of fun.
With my second brain-stabbing PCR test verified as negative, I’m preparing to leave isolation once and for all (hopefully).
While I won’t miss the mediocre meals and showers that run cold after just a few minutes, being in quarantine for two weeks got me even more excited to enjoy the rest of my freedom for the semester and everything that South Korea has to offer.