Before the program started, I was faced with some startling obstacles. Buying an international flight is stressful enough. There is a lot of coordination in terms of the arrivals, layovers, and whether your program has a specific pick up times. I could never find a good ticket that would get me to my program in time for me to catch the bus with other people from the program. With my original ticket, I would’ve gotten to Seoul a day early. I had to find a hotel and transportation near my school. Although I did not have an alum from Whitman that I could talk with, I was able to get in contact with someone who knows a family friend of mine. It was extremely helpful to speak with someone who lives there, which was reassuring for myself and my parents. He was able to give me some advice on what apps to use such as kakaomaps, and good areas to get a hotel. I was fully prepared to venture into a new country with very little knowledge of the language on my own.
About a month before my initial departure, news about CORVID-19 (aka the coronavirus) was starting to amp up. I had a 9-hour layover in Beijing before I even got to Seoul. I constantly checked the travel advisory for China. I anxiously watched go from a 2 to a 3, and within days go from a 3 to a 4. When I say the level 4 warning I knew I had to act quickly to get a new flight. After restless hours calling airlines and other third-party travel agencies and also communicating my concerns with the OCS, I was able to get a refund for my original flight and got part of my other flight covered by Whitman. A few days later, however, South Korea was starting to have its own outbreak of the coronavirus, and school was delayed by two weeks. This ultimately left me to once again change my flight, repeating the tedious phone calls. A few days later I was informed that the program was canceled. I was devastated. I had spent almost a year preparing to go to Seoul to send the semester, but that wasn’t possible anymore. I, of course, cried for the better half of 2 days. A couple of days later I was offered the opportunity to go to London instead. While it wasn’t my first choice, I was still able to go somewhere new.
Throughout this entire process, both CIEE and Whitman have been extremely helpful. I’ve learned to be more flexible and adaptable as I’ve ever been. Although I did not get to go to my original destination, I cannot wait to see what London has in store for me!
Below are a couple links to travel advisories for both South Korea and the UK, along with this program called STEP. STEP is a service for from the state department for if you’re going on an extended trip or study abroad program, they send you direct emails with warning and updates if the travel advisory changes.