A little taste of life abroad: An Army mom in South Korea
Jordan Jenkins was just 20 years old when she found out she would have to move away from her family in Texas for the first time. Oh, and she happened to be moving halfway around the world to South Korea. Let’s be honest, that’s a big move.
Jordan’s husband and high school sweetheart, Hezekiah, or “Hez,” is in the Army. Shortly after he proposed to her on the day after Thanksgiving in 2008, he received orders to move to Camp Humphreys in Pyongtaek, South Korea.
“I was so shocked!” Jordan said. “I had already said “yes” to the marriage, so I just had to try and get used to the idea of a big move!”
After their wedding, Jordan had to stay back in Texas while her husband traveled to Korea to begin his work there. When her paperwork was processed, she boarded a plane (the first time she had flown by herself) and flew the long (more than 14 hour) flight to South Korea. Oh, and did we mention that this was the first time she would step foot outside of the United States?
Needless to say, this move was a big change for Jordan and there were so many things she needed to get used to. Here are a few of her biggest adjustments during her time in Korea:
Interesting global location
“The initial thought of being just south of North Korea is scary,” Jordan said. “But we realized quickly that any time there was a threat, it was portrayed as a bigger deal to our friends and family than what we felt living over there.”
All soldiers and families were required to have an NEO, or Noncombatant Evacuation Operation, bag packed in case of an emergency.
“It included a gas mask issued by the military, a binder with essential information like your birth certificate, passport and stateside emergency contact, along with basic items to last a few days if you were in transition from South Korea to a safe haven,” Jordan said.
Jordan also traveled to see the border between North and South Korea while she was there.
“I had the chance to visit the border and went to the DMZ or demilitarized zone,” Jordan said. “There is a big office building and you walk into a room that splits the border between North and South Korea. When you walk out of the building, you can see soldiers from the north side watching you through binoculars and it is the strangest feeling.”
The language barrier
“We didn’t live on base so our neighbors used Hangul,” Jordan said. “Also, it was difficult to even try and guess what the road signs said because the alphabet is completely different.”
Jordan did find ways to communicate during her time in South Korea, although there was still some confusion.
“I learned some basic phrases and many of the businesses near the base knew a little English,” Jordan said. “And there was a lot of pointing! Also, a lot of restaurants had pictures or an English translation.”
“In South Korea, it is normal to eat squid or dog, so that took some getting used to,” Jordan said. “I’m not that adventurous, but Hez did eat ‘kagogi,’ more commonly known as dog. He said it tastes like roast beef.”
Jordan did find some food items that she enjoyed and still misses from her time in Korea.
“I miss ‘bulgulgi,’ a Korean barbeque and ‘yaki mandu,’ a fried dumpling,” Jordan said. “You can find similar items at Korean restaurants in the United States, but they aren’t nearly as good!”
“I grew up in the country, so I’m used to having lots of space,” Jordan said. “But in South Korea, the country is the size of Indiana, with the population of New York, so they are forced to build up! There is not a lot of land, so everyone lives in apartments.”
“We witnessed the phenomenon of ‘yellow dust,’” Jordan said. “During certain times of the year, the pollution from China would travel down to our area. People wear masks to try and prevent too much exposure to it.”
According to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Yellow Dust comes from Chinese desserts and blows across northern China where it mixes with industrial pollution and then makes its way into Korea. When it’s especially high in concentration, Yellow Dust can aggravate respiratory illnesses and also irritate the eyes, throat and lungs of those who encounter it.
“After our first child, Shiloh, was born in South Korea, we had to visit a Korean hospital when she got ill at seven weeks old,” Jordan said. “The way that the hospital is operated was very different from the U.S. and we had to adapt to how they worked.”
A lot of conveniences for children you would see at American hospitals, such as cribs, and provided formula, diapers and wipes were not available at the Korean hospital. One of the hardest parts of their hospital experience in South Korea was getting used to their normal hospital procedures.
“When they took Shiloh for testing, we were not allowed to go with her and even with a translator, we were never really sure what they were doing with her or how long she would be gone each time they took her,” Jordan said.
Even with all the different experiences that Jordan and Hezekiah experienced in their three years in South Korea, they would still jump at the chance to go back. They learned that relationships become stronger when you are out of your comfort zone.
“You get really close to those around you because that’s all you have,” Jordan said. “We had great friends who took us under their wing.”
And she has great advice for anyone considering an overseas move.
“It’s scary and can be very overwhelming,” Jordan said. “But never in my life would I have thought that I had the opportunity to visit South Korea, let alone live there. We learned so much.”
-by Emily Robertson