Becoming a Traveller

I am no stranger to travel. When I was just 18, I went to spend a year living in China, working as an English teacher. A few years later, during one long summer break from university, I spent 4 months working in an aquarium in San Francisco. I’ve been to India, Japan, Malaysia, and covered off a fair bit of Europe. However, while I have travelled, I have never before been a ‘traveller’.

A traveller is someone moving from place to place for the long haul, whereas I have always chosen either to visit a country for a short trip, or to live there. This year is breaking new but strangely familiar ground for me – I am used to the immersion in confusing new cultures, the broken attempts at communication in unknown languages, and the excitement of trying new things and seeing new sights. What I am not used to is the lack of a permanent home base, a place which is yours to which you can return.

What I thought, is that I would really struggle with this. I’ve always hated living out of a bag, and one particularly bad experience of a living situation in San Francisco taught me the value of having a comforting home base. However, the truth I’m starting to learn on this trip is how quickly a person can acclimatise to a new life and a temporary home.

I spent the past week living in a tiny box of a hostel room, with a hard single bed, a small desk with some cubby boxes above, and a bathroom so compact that you have to shower over the toilet. I checked out of that small box today, and it was like saying goodbye to a home. Over the week I had modified and personalised it into my own space – requested an extra duvet to pad out my bed into a cosy little cocoon, bought earplugs to make sure I was never disturbed by the noises of the hostel, decorated my desk with gifts and gallery brochures, and hung up the small scroll I bought from Insadong market.

I am also feeling the value of my decision to not simply travel for leisure, but to build the Global Innovation Project so that I could travel with a purpose. I have always preferred to work in new places rather than simply visit them, because that allows you to get to know the people and the culture, rather than just skimming the surface and seeing the sights. This project has allowed me to connect in to the real fabric of Seoul, visiting office spaces, speaking with local people and getting a brief glimpse of how things work. Of course, it’s not as deep or enduring a connection as you get from really living in a place, but it’s a nice compromise (and one that makes me feel a stronger connection to the people of Seoul than the swarms of tourists snapping photos at the Gyeongbokgung palace).