The Seoul Diaries: Part 1

Hello! My name is Faith and I am currently in South Korea doing a 2-week quarantine. My major is International Studies with a minor in Korean and I will be studying at Korea University for 2 semesters. I got into learning the Korean language back in 2015 and haven’t stopped since. I love South Korean culture, music, fashion, skincare, dance, history, food (especially the food!), and all there is to learn about Korea.

The Preparation

Overall, there was a lot that I had to prepare before being able to be where I am today. From juggling my intense academic course load, working 12 hours per week at a part time job to save up money, relentlessly applying for dozens of study abroad grants and scholarships, and years of meticulous planning and budgeting since my junior year of high school; all for this one year abroad. And I finally made it!

Tip: Make sure to schedule a PCR Covid test within 72 hours of your first departure flight!! It has to be a PCR test!! Also, it doesn’t hurt to get two or three Covid tests done just in case one comes back late as you need the result before you can get through checking your bags. Check out your assigned Korean embassy for the exact requirements, but here is a link to mine.

The Departure

Being that this was my first time traveling to a foreign country, in the midst of a global pandemic, I can honestly say I was preparing for the worst and hoping for the best when I arrived at the airport. I arrived 3 hours early and checked in my 2 heavy suitcases and duffel bag. At check-in, they asked me for my passport, negative Covid test result, and a vaccination card (if you have one). I would recommend downloading the Korean quarantine app (see picture below) beforehand while you have the wifi. After that, I said goodbye to my parents, went through security, and sat at my gate waiting for my first flight connecting me to LAX and then to Incheon Airport; a mix of anxiety and excitement festering in my stomach.

The Korean Government Quarantine App (download beforehand to save you any hassle when you arrive in Korea)

Tip: If you are a first time flyer, make sure to first find your correct gate, search for any charging outlets nearby, and keep an ear out for airport announcements regarding gate changes or flight delays!

Once I made it LAX 5 hours later, I arrived in Terminal 2. I was flying Korean Air so I had to book it to the other side of the very confusing airport that is LAX. I caught a terminal bus and made my way all the way to Terminal B and found my gate. FYI, if you get to LAX late at night, most of the stores and restaurants will be closed so search for something to eat if you get hungry quickly. Once I made it to my gate, I had to check in at the front desk. They ask you for your passport, negative PCR Covid test results, student visa (it was a paper attached to the inside my passport), and your baggage receipt (if you have one). When you board the plane, the flight attendants will ask you for all of this information (minus the baggage receipt) again so make sure that you have all of these things in a folder or someplace that you can easily access. They also perform a body temperature scan on you before you board the plane. From there, you can sit back, relax, eat a few delicious and filling meals, watch some Kdramas or listen to music, and prepare your body for the time/culture shock that it will have in 11-13 hours.

Tip: It doesn’t hurt to be social. Try talking to others at your gate that look like they are your age. You will be surprised how many other exchange students I ran into who were either going to my same university or who were also studying abroad in the same city as me! We were all in the same boat.

The Arrival

After a 12 hour plane ride connecting from LAX, I arrived to Incheon Airport at 5:00am. I was feeling quite overwhelmed and exhausted from all the flying, but I followed the crowd of people that came from my plane all the way to the first of many stations that you will have to go through to get out of the Incheon airport. Here goes nothing.

  1. I would suggest not wearing too many layers of clothes on your flight over as it may make your temperature higher that it is. You don’t want that. Keep yourself as cool as possible by drinking lots of water, thinking of ice cubes, and breathing. It helps.
  2. On the plane ride over, they give you four forms to fill out (a white travel declaration form, a yellow health declaration form, a traveler declaration form, and an arrival card). DON’T LOSE THESE! They are required to get through immigration! If you are doing quarantine through a Korea University off-campus facility like I was (GlobalENS), I was instructed to put down their Korean contact number and address on these forms when asked about my place of stay and mobile number so please double check that information as it will be very important later on.
  3. When you get to the first station, prepare your passport, the white and yellow forms, your negative PCR Covid test, and the quarantine app (signs will be placed so you can scan and download it if you haven’t already).
  4. They will then scan your body temperature and if your temperature is under 37.5 degrees Celsius, you will be ushered to a desk where they will look at your passport, test results, quarantine contact information, travel declaration form, and check for the downloaded quarantine app.
  5. At the next station, they will check for the app again and ask to see your passport, visa, and travel declaration forms. After they call the Korean contact number provided and confirm that you are in Korea for study abroad reasons, they will give you a yellow health screening certificate and you move to the next station of issuing documents. They ask for your visa, passport, and yellow screening certificate and you will have to sign a few forms agreeing to the government quarantine.
  6. Next, you head to the passport section where they ask again for your passport, visa, scan your fingerprints, and take a lovely picture of your tired, sweaty face before letting you head out to baggage claim. Somewhere before here or at this station, you will also get an entry confirmation slip (very important!). If you have made it this far! Congrats, the nerve-racking part is over.
  7. After grabbing my 3 heavy bags and pushing them using a convenient cart rack, I headed over to customs, showed them my travel declaration form, and walked into the bigger part of the airport. You show the person at the desk ahead your passport and entry confirmation slip and head left where airport workers will ask you if you are a student. Say yes. They will then usher you towards an area where I met my quarantine facility contact person and a few other exchange students from my flight as we waited for a taxi to take us to our quarantine facility.
The waiting area.

Overall, the whole process from leaving the plane and arriving outside of customs took around an hour so I highly recommend getting a flight that arrives really early in the morning if possible because the airport was basically deserted and the lines were shorter.

I’ve been here for 1 week already, and I cannot tell you how happy and excited I am to finish quarantine and start exploring Seoul! Over the next semester, I will be documenting my time studying abroad, cafe hopping, language learning, and my travels around South Korea.

I hope that you will follow me on my journey!~

🙂

*The writing and photos here are meant for use on finsupabroad.com and are not to be copied or redistributed by other entities without permission from the author.

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