Today on GoAbroad we share a guest post from Jena Sprau, an avid traveler who recently spent a summer teaching in South Korea. During that time and after, she was able to visit and explore Hong Kong, China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Malaysia.
In her post on GoAbroad, she shares her perspective on what it means to step out of your comfort zone while traveling abroad. Whether you’re preparing to go abroad or perhaps returning from an international adventure, Jena’s story is a reminder of how meaningful travel can open your eyes to the world around you.
A Taste of the Unknown in Okpo Land
“You guys, is this safe?”
A question my friends and I found ourselves repeating as we made our way through barbed wire and years of neglect to enter the locally famous Okpo Land, an abandoned amusement park in South Korea.
Safe? Maybe. Legal? Probably not. Yet it was adventurous, and as curious beings, my friends and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to explore.
After asking for directions in poor, mispronounced Korean and climbing somewhat treacherous hills, our doubts were sent skyrocketing as soon as we approached the makeshift entrance, which was really just a hole cut through the rusted fence. No longer feeling victorious, we soon felt dreadful when we saw not only the old, forgotten carnival rides and ticket booths, but several dozen men wearing camouflage and holding guns.
My instinct, naturally, was to turn around, forget the entire thing, and run in a zig-zag line in the hopes their aim would be a bit off that day. The friends who entered with me, however, didn’t have the same fight or flight instinct, and went further inside.
After turning around and alerting the rest of our crew what had happened, we all decided to enter together, waving a white flag so we might be able to drag out our courageous friends, or at least what would remain of them.
Alas, we re-entered to find the girls had made some new chingus (friends) and the men were not at all dangerous, just playing a leisurely game of BB tag with some very realistic looking guns.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the eerie, somewhat supernatural park given the men’s permission. It was an unforgettable experience and certainly one of the most memorable I had while living in South Korea.
In retrospect, I see it as an analogy to the time I spent there. At first, I was scared for a number of reasons. It was the first time I would be living abroad completely on my own. I felt unsafe. I didn’t necessarily want to challenge myself and take the next step.
But I did. I stuck it out, made it over the initial ‘what am I doing here?’ phase, and had an incredible year. In new and foreign situations, Korea or elsewhere, be unafraid and undaunted by the unknown. I’m not necessarily telling you to trespass and walk into a firing squad, but I am telling you to take risks and push yourself. Meet new friends, eat different foods, explore foreign lands. I promise, the benefits will far outweigh any temporary discomfort you may feel.
Okpo Land is located on Geoje Island, just south of the Korean peninsula. Remember, it is illegal to enter, and exploring and picture taking should be done from afar. Be aware of this and always be mindful of the law!
Jena Sprau is a proud native of Rantoul, Illinois. While attending Illinois State University, she went abroad for the first time and caught the incurable travel bug. After graduation, she spent a year wrangling rascals and teaching English in Busan, South Korea. She currently resides in Chicago and as an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan, she has struggled living so close to Wrigley Field. Besides travel, she enjoys reading and quoting Harry Potter, attending concerts, and thrift shopping. www.riseandroam.com