A bust of Queen Nefertiti used to sit above my great-grandmother’s cabinet. Plated in a dull gold, it towered above everyone, fixing them with a stony gaze that only a pharaoh’s wife could muster. As a child, I’d never seen anything like it. She was horrifying, but I couldn’t look away.
Eleven years later, I can still see Nefertiti staring down at me. She introduced me to Egyptology and the land of the Nile, which continue to fill me with an intimidating curiosity.
This memory has been consistent throughout my life, but never as vivid as when I arrived in South Korea. Perhaps it was because they were oddly similar. They both brought me to the terrifying realization that I was out of my element and a long way from home.
A Canadian man-turned-boy lost in the concrete wilderness of Seoul, I had no idea what to expect, and that scared me. No travel guide or podcast could prepare me for how different it was.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, being there in person is worth a million. The fear dissipated as we became more familiar with how things worked. We learned to force ourselves onto the subway instead of inviting others to go ahead. We simplified our English hoping that people would understand single words.
Jamie and Tony, two Korean friends we went to high school with in Ottawa, were in South Korea when we visited. Being able to communicate with people who have experienced both countries was crucial, and spending time with them gave us the perspective we desperately needed.
I never believed that I’d end up travelling abroad. Seeing friends old and new, cycling along the Han River, hiking the mountain trails of Chuncheon, it was all a blur that moved much too fast.
Arriving back home in Canada was emotional. Awaiting us at the Vancouver ticket gate was an old man with an airport staff jacket. I offered him a faint smile and he responded:
What South Korea taught me can’t be read or seen; it can only be felt, like Egyptian royalty staring through your soul.
Travel far and often, and venture the broken path from time to time. Embrace the strange and the scary. When you return home, you’ll understand why.
Cody Lirette is a man who likes a good cup of coffee. A barista by day and writer by night, Cody is currently working on a personal blog about health, nutrition, and literature. He is enjoying his second year in Algonquin College's Professional Writing program.