When I was a little girl, I used to look up at the sky and see airplanes flying away. I waved to them while I dreamed of being aboard, going off alone on an adventure into the big world.
For an Egyptian girl born to a conservative family, traveling solo wasn’t a very realistic option, but my desire to try it continued to grow stronger as I got older, and led to the hardest challenge I would ever face.
My parents wanted me to get married and have children after I got my degree, but I had a different dream that I wasn’t going to give up on. I worked while in college and saved as much money as I could, keeping my dream alive while family members, neighbors and friends of my mother tried to arrange marriage for me.
I turned down all of the proposals and continued saving, always looking ahead to achieve my goal. The pressure my parents put me through only made me more determined to reach my goals and live my life my way. Some people mocked my plans, saying: “You will never travel.” , but their attitude only acted as a further push forward to me.
One day I watched a travel show about South Korea. As I saw the green hills, ancient Buddhist temples and modern streets I knew I wanted to be there. I read about Korean history, took language lessons, and wrote an article for a Korean newspaper, which won me a week-long trip to Seoul! Even though I was the only winner from Egypt, my parents didn’t want to let me travel there. While they were proud of me, they were worried about the outside world.
I fought for my right and I challenged them. My mom kept saying, “How can a girl travel alone?” “You’re just a weak girl, you need a man to protect you.” She was wrong about that. I needed no one. Finally, they allowed me to go.
After years of dreaming I was actually on a flight, flying off the ground into the high sky and open air. I’ll never forget the way I felt when I landed in Korea and stepped out of the airport. I was happy and proud. And for the first time in my whole life, I was absolutely free. Free of faded traditions that somehow still haunt our society. I was free to be who I am without anyone telling me “you can’t” simply because I’m a girl. I toured the historic palaces, ate Korean spicy food, and walked in the modern city of Seoul. A week was too short for me.
I went back to Egypt with a bigger dream. After having a taste of what the world had to offer, my heart ached to have another adventure. I worked two jobs, day and night. I didn’t wait for permission; I booked my ticket and told my family that I was going on a long trip. Of course, they didn’t like it but nothing could have stopped me.
For six months I traveled around Korea on my own. I saw the red and orange leaves of autumn taking over the greens. I climbed a high mountain, stood on the summit with open arms embracing the cold winter wind. That day I saw my first white snow, flakes fell down on me, the snow was as magical as I’ve always imagined it would be. I walked through small villages in the countryside. I saw the first spring flowers blooming. I couch surfed with locals and foreigners and made friends. I’m a free, independent and confident woman.
My passion for traveling and love for Korea made me brave and gave me strength. Now I’m living my dream. I’m an expat in Korea and I travel.
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