Last weekend I celebrated my 25th birthday. This was the second birthday that I have celebrated since moving to Korea to teach English. Every year I try to think of something creative to do for my birthday. Last year, 2 of my good friends flew to Jeju for the weekend. Because this was my 25th birthday, I decided that I needed to do something out of my element for it. Since I have never been the biggest fan of heights and I knew that I didn’t want to go bungee jumping and I couldn’t find a skydiving place where teach English in Gwangju, paragliding was seemed like the perfect idea.
The biggest challenge that I faced (besides the actual jump) was setting up the event. With a lot of help from one of our desk staff members, I was able to find a paragliding school with 15 minutes of my house. For some reason, I was not able to just call in a reservation in order to reserve the date and was subsequently forced to use a Daum account to register online. Another issue that we faced was with the logistics of bringing such a large group. Figuring out transportation for 13 people was quite a challenge as none of us posses an international drivers license. Long story short, it really helps to have good Korean friends who can help you navigate confusing websites and procedural issues.
One the morning of the event, we met at the school near the bus terminal. There, they explained the basic procedures and important safety information. The only problem was that they didn’t speak that much English and our group members didn’t speak that much Korea. After a 15 minute session of charades, we felt adequately prepared to take the jump.
Our quick saftey demo
After a short 30 minute car ride, we arrived in Gochang. The plan was for us to drive up in groups to the top of a nearby mountain and then land on a soccer field in the middle of a local track. The mountain that we were going to jump off of was about 680 meters high and the ride down takes around 20 minutes.
Paragliding is amazing. To get started, they pull up the parachute and they take a quick look to make sure that it is full inflated. Then with the help of the instructor, you begin to run off the cliff. Before you know it, the wind picks up and you are hundreds of meters above the ground. If you look straight ahead it feels as though you are sitting on the top of a mountain. It is only upon looking down that you realize just how high up you are. It creates a weird juxtaposition of the senses because the world seems so serene from up there, yet an accident would result in certain death.
View from the top
One of the amazing aspects to paragliding is that you can stay up in the air as long as you care to. On the day that we went, there were numerous experienced paragliders taking off from the same point. Some of them would have these kayak looking harnesses so that they could be comfortable while staying in the air for a longer period of time. By following the different wind currents, they were able to stay up, and even climb, to amazing heights.
My time teaching in Korea has been about testing my limits. By putting myself in situations that test my boundaries, I have learned more about what kind of person I actually am and want to be. The real question is how do you want to challenge yourself during your time teaching abroad?