SEOUL, South Korea - To say I was nervous would be an understatement. This was not a short visit where I would simply enjoy the sights and return promptly to the comforts of home. This was a year in Korea; 365 days away from everything I had grown accustomed to. New to the Army, I wondered how I would acclimate to my newfound duties as a Soldier while living nearly 7,000 miles from home.
A piece of wisdom I hear time and time again from fellow service members is that Korea is what you make of it. I had no choice but to make the best of my first assignment. Over the next several months, I took the time to travel. I became submersed in the culture and that's when things changed.I built confidence in myself and began to appreciate the opportunity I had, even if I got lost a few times along the way.
I was fortunate enough to have someone explain the subway system to me the first time I ventured out. In all honesty, it wasn't much different from any other metropolis. To ride, all I needed was a reloadable metro card, which I purchased from a local convenience store. Each subway car had a map which laid out the route with each stop listed in English. The buses weren't so straightforward. All stops were printed and announced entirely in Hangul, the Korean language. I was determined to make it work and began using applications on my phone as a guide.
Free from the fear of veering off course, I took to reading blogs for inspiration on where to go and what to do next. I came across an impressive photo of hikers perched atop a majestic mountain overlooking Seoul. I knew immediately what I had to do next, and a few weeks later I found myself navigating the metro system on my way to the base of Mount Bukhansan. Ignoring my crippling fear of heights, I climbed nearly 3,000 feet to Baegundae Peak, where I learned that I had not climbed the same mountain as the hikers I admired but rather the much higher mountain from which that photo was taken. This feat became a highlight of my Korean experience.
U.S. Army Spc. Lauren Harrah takes in the view of Baegundae Peak, Bukhansan National Park in the Republic of Korea through the lens of her camera, March 7, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lauren Harrah)
After taking a handful of memorable photos, I was eager to make the descent. I chose to follow a shorter route down the opposite side of the mountain. I was naive and inexperienced, not identifying the snow-covered north face for the strenuous route it was. Surely there would be less snow toward the bottom I thought. The trail was covered with snow and ice, indistinguishable in areas marked only by rope handrails hastily tied between trees. Two Korean gentlemen were also making the descent and offered what assistance they could, guiding me through less treacherous terrain.
I made my way safely to the bottom only to be greeted by a small coffee shop where no one spoke English and all surrounding signage again read only in Hangul. I had lost my bearing and could not find a bus stop. I also happened to be in one of the few locations where my phone dropped Internet connectivity. My safety net was gone. After some thinking, I called a Korean Soldier from my unit to ask for help. He was able to communicate my predicament to one of the gentlemen who had helped me make the descent. My fellow hiker wasted no time in guiding me nearly a mile to the bus stop. I was very appreciative of this stranger's willingness to help and, suddenly, our cultures didn't seem so different.
Korea is definitely what you make of it. This holds true for almost anything the Army gives you. Our mission as Soldiers is always to adapt and overcome.
When I got orders to Korea, I felt the odds were stacked against me but, over the course of my assignment, I learned how to make the best of it. It wasn't watching movies and talking to friends back home that made my time better, it was the experiences I had when I focused more on opportunities rather than challenges.
By U.S. Army Spc. Lauren Harrah
Provided through DVIDS
Comment on this article