Stepping foot off the train in Myeong-dong, I began searching for Exits 7 or 8. The instructions I looked up the day before said to, “wait there for a free shuttle that will take you to the cable car station”. However, the longer I waited, the more I doubted I was even in the right place. My plan for the day was to see Namsam Seoul Tower, one of the most representative landmarks of Seoul. The tower is an observatory almost 1574 feet above sea level overlooking Namsam Mountain. Initially I was afraid my friends and I would be rushed for time exploring the tower before it closed, but managing the train system was so difficult I was afraid we wouldn’t make it there at all! I started my 6 week summer exchange program at Korea University a week prior, and exploring had been one rough challenge after another. The day we left for Namsam was proving no different. The TripAdvisor instructions were not very clear about where locations were, and at that point, my Korean only consisted of “hello” and “thank you”. By the time it was 10 p.m., my friends and I decided to call it quits, and try again another time.
Feeling discouraged, I did more research for other possible transportation methods. I found a review about walking directions to the Namsam Cable Car, which would take you directly to Seoul Tower. A few days passed, and we decided to try for the tower again. This time things would be different. Instead of waiting for the shuttle we took a steep path up a hill next to the station. Little did we know this hill was just the first of many. The farther along we went the farther we got from the big city lights, only occasionally seeing a convenience store or apartment complex. My friends and I grew pretty uneasy as the hills seemed to go on forever, and it was getting dark. At one point, I thought we had gotten lost because of how long we had been walking. After a little while longer, we finally saw it, a brightly lit building covered in glass windows with a giant cable attached. Relief and excitement rushed over me looking at the cable car station, and my friends and I quickly climbed the rest of the stairs that led into the building.
Peering over Myeong-dong from the top of Namsam Seoul Tower, I saw millions of lights from office buildings, department stores, and apartments, shine into the night. It was beautiful, but it was also a reminder. Studying abroad might not always consist of positive experiences. There will be times where you struggle with uncomfortable or stressful situations, sometimes from cultural differences, other times from language barriers. These challenges, and overcoming them, are just as much part of studying abroad as seeing beautiful skylines from foreign mountains. Fighting to get to the top of Namsam Seoul Tower helped me bond with my friends, and it made getting to the top worth so much more in the end. Overcoming the challenges you face have a unique way of making your time abroad more memorable. If you take anything away from from my story, let it be that you embrace all the things that happen to you while abroad, good and bad.