The trip home wasn't nearly as grueling as I thought it was going to be. I found out that the bus stop was right next to Seoul Station, and I'd have to cross the highway for that one... so it'd be easier and faster (and cheaper) just to take the train.
So after waiting a few hours to check out of my hotel, I do so around 11:50 AM. The closest elevator that takes you down into Seoul Station was just a short walk from the hotel... one made a lot longer by the fact I had about 150 pounds in luggage with me. And one of the suitcases had a broken wheel. And my jacket was slick enough that my backpack kept slipping down my arms.
The airport train was also on the complete opposite side of Seoul Station (which in and of itself is enormous). I had some difficulties there and had to stop and take a few short breaks to catch my breath and rest my arms (those bags were heavy). Walking without the bags would have been maybe a 15-minute walk from my hotel to the train. With the bags, from leaving the hotel to stepping onto the train itself took 45 minutes. And then the train ride was another 50-ish minutes. My flight wasn't until 5:50, and by the time I got to the main check-in lobby, it was only about 1:30 or 1:45 or so.
I did an self-check in and then only had to sit and wait for a little bit before a line started forming to check my bags. I went and waited there so I didn't have to end up at the back. The desks didn't open until around 2:50. At one point I accidentally dropped my coin change everywhere and everyone helped me pick it back up, which was mildly embarrassing (one even rolled all the way to the counter, and one of the worker girls brought it to me).
When I finally got to the counter, the check-in girl was super nice. I was checking two bags (which was the free limit), but one of my bags was over the weight limit. I knew this would happen and was prepared to pay. But she actually let it slide for free, just saying next time to make sure it's at the right weight. But then I had to check my hiking stick I got in Mt. Fuji. She had to check with her manager, and they said the only way I could get that on the plane is if I pretended like I needed it to walk. But I couldn't pull that off, and the compartments would have been too small, meaning I would have to had held it the whole time or something. So I decided to check it in as a third luggage... which cost $150 bucks. I decided to just tell myself that was a charge for the overweight bag, so I wasn't paying $150 bucks for a 1-pound stick. But even then, I had to go and pay to have it boxed up and then brought back to the girl to have it checked.
Once all that was done, I went through security and eventually made it to the terminal. I ate at small food court and then waited for about an hour at my gate before boarding started. I had been dreading this flight back. It was like a 13 or so hour flight from Seoul to Dallas, and I remember it was (strangely) the same length from LA to Seoul when I first went. And that was super uncomfortable and eventually painful to be sitting that long. Thankfully, it turned out the plane had quite a few empty seats (rows, even), so the guy who was sitting next to me decided to move elsewhere and I had a whole 2-seat row to myself. That was nice. Even still, though, the overhead luggage compartments were super tiny, and like all of them were full up because they were so small. People were having trouble finding places to put their stuff. So that was a bit crazy.
The flight time also seemed to just (forgive me) fly by. I started watching Ender's Game, but there was a technical issue about 2/3s of the way through and it cut off. Then I rewatched Frozen for like the hundredth time. And then I "plane slept" for about 5 hours. And by plane slept, I mean I slept, but in a non-deep sleep where you're like half-awake the whole time anyway, so it's more resting your eyes than actual restful sleep. I eventually "woke up" and watched Finding Nemo. And before I knew it, we were in Dallas. The seats got mildly uncomfortable from time to time, but never too bad. Oh, and we got there like an hour ahead of schedule, too.
But Dallas is where things got annoying. The Dallas-Fort Worth airport is really annoying because you have to go and uncheck your bags, carry it all through customs, and then re-check your bags all over again. And then go through security again. And the customs guy asked me what was in my hiking stick box and asked if there was an easy way to open the box and look, but it was all taped up so I said no. But he was like 'whatever, I believe you' and let me through anyway. And one of the guys at security was just some young cool dude who didn't have the same stuffy meanness as most of the other security guys. The only other problem I had there was my backpack somehow took forever to come through the machine. I was kinda worried that someone had stolen it, as all my other stuff had come through. I guess maybe they rescanned it or something and had to send it through again.
My gate was all the way on the opposite side of the airport, so I had to take a train to get to it. Then I had trouble finding/remembering my gate number as they didn't have it on my boarding pass, so I had to look at a board at one point and then ask at an information desk at another point. My transfer to Austin was set to start boarding at 6 and would leave at 6:30. So I found a Subway and ate a little something before waiting until 6.
But I noticed in the couple hours I had to kill that roughly every 5 minutes, there was an airport announcement that different flights were changing gates for some reason. I have no idea why, but seemingly ever flight was now happening at a way different gate. So come 6 PM and it's time for boarding, I hadn't heard any announcements for my flight or any change of gates. But the sign still had its destination as "Ontario, California" (of which I didn't know even existed), a flight that was supposed to have left like 45 minutes prior. Half the people are confused as to what's going on. And... then they make the call. Our flight was now at another gate... which was in a whole other building. So like 100 people are now walking down the airport together toward the train car. It was funny--one guy was on the phone with I'm assuming his wife or some family member and mentioning how all these people would have to cram onto this train. And in my head I'm like "Well... that's nothing new." I manage to jump into the thing last second, and we all head to the new area.
We get to the gate, and there's still people coming in from a different flight. And there was maybe a flight at that gate next that was then moved to a different gate on the other side of the current building, so that was a huge mess, too. And there was like one lady working the counter, so she was trying to check people in one group at a time while also answering the phone, etc. It was a total disaster. By the time I actually get onto the plane, it's like 7 PM. The flight was originally supposed to leave at 6:30 and arrive by 7:30 in Austin. The plane didn't end up taking off until about 7:20. The captain said it would be a 30-minute flight. Ended up being about 45 minutes... and even longer because we had to circle the airport twice before we could land. But I eventually made it down, found my parents, and got my stuff. But then on the way home, we got lost on the highway for a bit and went in circles for a while. But we eventually found our way.
And I finally got home around 11 PM. So if you don't count that 5 or so hours of "plane sleep," I'd basically been awake from (roughly) 6 PM Tuesday (Texas Time) and didn't get home until 11 PM Wednesday (Texas Time). So you could say it had been a long day... and I gave a bit of a glare at this lady sitting in front of my on the Dallas-to-Austin plane who was talking to another lady about flying from some other Southern US State to Dallas, then Dallas to Austin and how it was such a long day. Oh really, now?
I did notice a few major cultural differences right off the bat, as well, between Korea and the US:
#1. US teens (and/or college-age young adults) definitely have a different air about themselves, even in the ways they walk, stand, and/or move. Boys are much cockier and walk with this false bravado. Girls are very stuck-up and/or clique-ish... which everybody kind of knows, but you don't really see the huge extent of it until you've seen how a different culture acts for a year.
#2. Customer service in America is like 85% fake or uncaring. Like, they'll say hello or ask how you're doing or say have a good day... but there's like a deadness to their voices (not everyone or everywhere, but a good chunk). You can tell they mostly don't really care and just want to go through the motions of it. Whereas in Asian countries, they really want you to have the best service and best possible time wherever you're at. Now that's not the case in, say, Korean grocery stores or check-out lines. (In fact, of all the Asian countries I visited, Korea was the least commonly bubbly in its customer service. The main places you'd see it were restaurants and theme parks. And Seoul Tower. It was most common in Tokyo and Siem Reap.) But when they were 'on', they would go out of their way to make sure you were going to have an awesome time doing whatever. It's pretty insane.
#3. When you go for quick meals in Korea, it's either healthy or hearty. You'll get an adequate mix of the food pyramid, and all of it freshly prepared and hot. When I get to Dallas and go into Subway (the 'healthy' fast food, mind you), the first thing I see is an add for a new sandwich that is chicken in enchilada sauce over a layer for frito chips. Yeah. 'Murica!
#4. Americans are much louder than Asians. They're also more likely to speak their mind, especially if they don't like something. If something is going wrong or if something is annoying, you will definitely know an American's feelings about it... even if they don't say anything. Koreans? No way. And if they do say anything, it's all hedged to be polite. But also just talking in general. On a plane to any place in Asia, it was relatively quiet. On the plane back to America which was filled with foreigners (re: non-Asians)? Not only talkative in general, but friendly, helpful, and talkative to other strangers.
#5. That South Texan landscape... so much flatter and wide open than Korea. And the sky seems so much bigger.
And that's about it... for now, anyway. It'll take some time to get back into the swing of things. I even found myself paying like a Korean when I got my Subway sandwich (left hand's fingers touching right arm as I paid)... just out of habit. But I'll get back into it eventually.