South Korea: Foolhardy Acts


south koreaBanks of neon from street to stars seared my retinas. Seoul at night. I was in South Korea for a specific reason. To find work. But not just any old work, acting work. Being cooped up in London, too poor for acting school, no real experience of note, meant I was just another face in the crowd. I had heard Seoul was looking for foreign faces. Internationalizing their ever growing media industry.

The streets of Seoul shopping central, Myeongdong were overwhelming. I knew nobody, spoke none of the language, understood nothing of the customs. I had arrived earlier in the day, and struggled to recollect how I had ended up there.

With what little money I had in my pocket, in most countries I would have possibly failed. But Korea, the people and the timing saved me. There is an invisible aura of possibility that hangs over the city. People go about their business, not scrambling over one another, but teaming together to bring Korea in line with other leading nations.
Staying at a youth hostel, I became friends with one of the staff there, a guy from Brazil, and soon got to spending time with the owner. Knowing about my foolhardy goal of kick starting my acting career in Seoul, possibly more out of pity than anything else, he offered me a free bed in exchange for four hours per day volunteering in the hostel. This was my lifeline. Winter was setting in and I spent the remaining money I had on a winter coat from the sprawling market at Dongdaemun. There are numerous large buildings stretching over a mile, each one packed with market stalls over ten floors high. For such a small country, often the scale of Seoul can be impressive.

It was enough to buy me the time to make contacts and get the right visa to start me off on a three year span that would see me featuring in Korean movies with the stars. By the time I left Korea, I was a minor celebrity appearing weekly in television shows. I learned Korean and started to get better roles. But without that help from the hostel owner Danny, and from everybody who would buy me a meal, keep me alive, offer me a chance to perform, I could not have done it.

I think what I am really thankful for is the goodness of people. That we live in a multicultural world that certainly has its ignorance and its disagreements, but that allows a stranger to feel welcome. Eager to give something back, I have helped as many people as have needed it ever since. Korea taught me to be a better person. At the heart of travel is enlightenment. To learn and understand another culture so far away and to assimilate, to see that people really are the same worldwide, is the essence of travel. It is why travel is an addiction, and it is one I hope I will never be cured of.

About the Author: Paul Stafford works in the film industry and as a writer. He spent three years working in Seoul, South Korea in lieu of going to acting school. He currently lives in London and studies a masters in screenwriting.

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