Almost exactly a year ago, my family and I moved back to the U.S. from Camp Humphreys, South Korea. The two years we spent overseas served as my first OCONUS move, and coming back to the states was definitely a change. One change that I did not expect was coming back and having to start the driver’s license process all over again.
When I turned sixteen in South Korea, I was eligible to get a learner’s driving permit. After taking a study course and passing the driving exam, my parents took me to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) on post to be issued my physical permit card. Even though I could only drive on post and while accompanied by a licensed driver, I was excited to start learning how to drive. It was the first step to one day having my full driver’s license and my own car.
My parents would let me get behind the wheel in empty parking lots, and I would drive around and around, testing the gas, brakes, turn signals, reverse, and practicing how to park. I started to drive on the roads around the post, and it was extremely frightening at first. All of a sudden there were cars and people behind me, next to me, in front of me, and sometimes seemingly coming at me. It was also incredibly draining. Before physically driving, I had never realized how critical constant awareness of your surroundings is in order to drive safely. But my parents did their best to teach me all they knew about how to drive responsibly, and I truly learned a lot.
Once we got back to the States, my permit became useless. We went to the local DMV, and I had to start the license process from the beginning because my permit was not an Alabama license. I studied for the driver’s permit test in Alabama and passed an online driving test. Now seventeen, I was getting another learner’s permit.
Months went by, and I spent time practicing driving in America and getting used to our new area, just waiting until I could take a driving test to get a restricted license, which is a step up from a learner’s permit. I had plans to make an appointment with the DMV to take the road test one day during the summer until I found out that my school offers driver’s education. My parents wanted me to take the class because it can help lower my insurance rates, and if a student successfully passes the class, they can get a restricted license without taking the road test. Which meant more waiting for a license above a learner’s permit.
Another issue that arose since moving back to the States was the incredibly inflated price of cars. It was (and still is) nearly impossible to find a relatively nice used car for sale that did not have a painful price tag attached. And yet, after months of searching, my grandparents found a good-looking car for a good price. We jumped on the offer, and I had my very first car!
I felt so proud of the little machine. I spent a day and a half outside scrubbing, brushing, and vacuuming every inch of it because I wanted to put my own hard work and sweat into making my car look brand new. I put the keys on a key ring and started carrying them around with me, even when I wasn't driving, just because I was so happy and proud to finally have my own car.
The experience of gaining my driver’s license and a car has not been exactly as my younger self imagined it. I will have to wait until my senior year of high school to start driver’s education and hopefully, to get a real driver’s license. Although I wish I hadn’t been set back in the driver’s license process by a PCS overseas, I am beyond content with my permit and my car. And it is worth mentioning that I wouldn’t trade my friends, memories, and experiences from South Korea for anything.