The Truth About Reverse Culture Shock

You can probably imagine how hard it is to leave the place you’ve grown up your entire life and travel to live in an unknown place thousands of miles away. What you most likely can’t imagine is how it feels to be back in that familiar place after you have lived in a faraway place for two years. What the experts call, “reverse culture shock” really exists.  As much as it feels like I never left home and my two years in Korea were all just a dream, there are still some things that I’ve been internally struggling with since being home.  These struggles are difficult to explain, but I’m going to try my best to outline some of the “shocks” I’ve experienced.

I’ve been back living under my father’s roof in my hometown, where I was born and raised, for just about two months now. That, alone, has been a shock, but I won’t go into too much detail.  I’m very fortunate to be employed in a job in the field that I want to be in, ESL, so I really can’t complain.  But what you need to know is my adjustment hasn’t been as smooth as it looks from the outside.  I have been going through a roller coaster of emotions while trying to find my niche again.

Communicating

One of the first things that has been a difficult adjustment, which may come as a surprise, is actually speaking English again.  Of course I spoke English while I was in Korea, but it’s not the same English that I speak here.  I’m used to going into public places and asking questions and responding to the workers in Korean and the English I’m used to using to communicate with Koreans is very elementary.  While in Korea I also spoke slightly different with my fellow native English speaking teacher friends, but we were all in the same boat together.  When we had conversations we would even note at how much our English was deteriorating.  (Ooo! brownie points for a 6 syllable word!) Anyways, after returning home I found it hard to not say things like “thank you” in Korean to the cashier at Target or not to bow to someone when saying hello.  I started a new job recently and I even find it awkward to join in a conversation with my co-workers during lunch because I’m used to eating lunch in silence while listening to incomprehensible conversation in Korean.

Appropriately, another thing that’s shocking to me is my ability to understand conversations surrounding me.  In Korea I became so accustom to tuning everything out that I forgot what it’s like to understand everything that people are saying.  Now I actually feel much more comfortable in a place like New York City where people around me are speaking foreign languages rather than when a stranger is loudly speaking English and my attention is distracted because I can understand what they are saying.  When I’m stopped by a stranger who needs directions or a salesperson who is trying to help me find something in a store I freeze before I realize, “Oh yea, if I need help I can actually ask someone who speaks the same language as me.” This may sound ridiculous, and I’m having a hard time explaining all of this, but this is the best I can do.

I never appreciated the words, “please” and “excuse me” but now I realize how much I missed hearing them.  In a city with 9 million people you don’t have the time or patience to say “excuse me” so instead you push them out of your way.  I have never been pushed and shoved more than when I was in Asia.  In Korea there is a word that means “excuse me” and I wrote it on an index card and memorized it, but I never heard it used in context.  I said it to a Korean once and they didn’t know how to react.  They were utterly shocked by my politeness.

Shopping

Shopping has been the most positive part of reverse culture shock.  I have gone from a size 10 to a size 4/6 without losing any weight! How, you ask? Because a size 4 in America is the equivalent to a size 10 or larger in Korea.  I used to dread clothes shopping in Korea.  Most department stores would only carry size XS-S.  The only sizes I could fit into were “free size” flowy tops, dresses, and elastic waist pants.  When I walked into Macy’s and accidentally grabbed a size 4 skirt and realized I fit into it, my self-esteem immediately shot up. (Not that size means anything), but when you drop down a few sizes without changing your body of course you’re going to feel better about yourself!

Grocery shopping has been both the easiest transition and the most overwhelming.  Out of all the Asian countries I have been to, Korea is truly lacking in the grocery store department.  They have a poor selection of foods to begin with and there is no variety.  The cereal aisle alone is maybe 1/4 of the size of our cereal aisles here in the USA.  Needless to say, I can navigate the grocery store here much better, but I feel blown away by the size and selection of things.  The aisles are much larger, the stocking shelves are much higher, and there is so much variety.  If I wanted to buy eggs in Korea I had maybe two kinds to choose from, but here there are “cage-free,” “organic,” “large,””jumbo,” etc. I honestly had a hard time buying eggs for the first time.

Going from City Life to Suburban Life

I definitely have mixed feelings about living back in suburbia.  On a positive note, I will say that I appreciate the comforts of a home and a backyard after living in a box crammed in the middle of a concrete jungle. It’s nice to be able to walk down the street or through a mall and be totally alone instead of fighting through crowds just to go to the grocery store. I feel a lot less claustrophobic.  However, there is a part of me that misses the convenience and hustle and bustle feel of the big city.  Even when I lived alone in Seoul, I never felt alone because I was always surrounded by people.  So many people that I often couldn’t wait to find solace in my small apartment.  Whenever I needed something I could just walk a block or two down the street or take the subway two stops to the nearest department store.  Now I have to get in my car and drive at least fifteen minutes to get something.  On the plus side, I don’t have to watch what I buy at the grocery store because now I can throw everything in my car.  I don’t miss carrying groceries up to my apartment.

Public transportation. That is something that my hometown lacks.  Luckily I have a car so I won’t complain too much.  I do miss the convenience of Seoul public transportation.  That’s one thing the Koreans got right.

My social life has pretty much come to a standstill.  In Seoul I was surrounded by friends and had places to go and people to see every night of the week if I wanted.  Now I have no idea where the good hang-outs are and  not only that. After two years out of the country, you wouldn’t believe how many of my friends are now married or have kids!

What’s Next?

I think I’ve finally come to the point where I’ve stopped saying, “Well, in Korea….” (which must have annoyed many people especially my father). And I thought I kicked the urge to bow except for the other day when I awkwardly did a head nod/half bow to my principal (I don’t think she noticed though). The cycle of culture shock has been a wild ride and it’s hard for anyone to truly relate unless they’ve been there. All you need to know is that even after you leave the country you’ve traveled, the aftershocks will follow you home.

Saying Good-bye to Korea

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and place because you’ll never be this way ever again.”- Anonymous

 

Dear Korea,

We have spent two years together and in two days time I will be leaving you to start the next chapter of my life.  Right now I am feeling a roller coaster of emotions. I’m sad to leave you because of all the memories I have created with you.  I will miss the independence I’ve had here, the people I’ve met, the spontaneous encounters, and even the frustrating cultural clashes that have made for interesting stories later on.  But I think more than anything, at this very moment, I am bursting with excitement and anticipation for what’s next.  I’m so glad I was able to have this experience and it’s something no one can ever take away from me.  I will keep my memories of you with me forever and I will use them to help me as I move on through life.  I’ve gained cultural knowledge, patience, independence, and confidence that I can get through any situation. After my time with you I have changed into a better person.  I know I will never be able to be this person again, but I will move on and use these experiences to be a better person somewhere else.  As I look around my emptied apartment I feel sad to think I will never live here again, but it makes me happy to know that one day I did live in Seoul, South Korea, and it will be a great story to tell my grandchildren.  Until next time….

Yours truly,

Jenny

60 days

As of today, there are exactly two months left until I will be boarding a plane back to the homeland.  How are we already more than halfway through June?!?!  Two years ago at this time I was saying good-bye to my first teaching job and bracing myself for the unknown.  I can easily remember the feelings I had before coming to Korea.  At the time, I had this huge desire to be taken out of my comfort zone and dropped into an unfamiliar place where I knew no one and no one knew me.  It felt like an experiment.  How long could I survive in a foreign country and how well could I adapt to a new environment? Little did I know my experiment would last two amazing years.  One of the most exciting times in my life was my first night in my own apartment in Seoul.  After my co-teacher dropped me off at my apartment, said good-bye and I tucked myself into bed that night, I felt as if I would explode.  I was truly ALONE.  Everything I had imagined and planned for the past six months was happening.  I was in my one-room apartment and I would wake up the next morning in Seoul, Korea, a place 8,000 miles away from home. There was no going back.  I had never felt more liberated in my life.

Two years later I find myself settled into a routine here that is almost somewhat boring at times. Instead of feeling excited and interested in the cultural differences that surround me, I find myself frustrated.   The simplest activities such as finding the right milk in a grocery store can become a daunting task when you’re in a foreign country. (It took me almost a year to find out that the milk here is 8% fat rather than the options of skim, 1%, or 2% like back home.  I stick to soy milk.) I miss the convenience of knowing where everything is at the local Stop and Shop and Wal-Mart.

It’s helpful for me to rekindle the feelings I had upon arriving in Korea.  I have a mere two months left here and I’m trying to stay positive during my remaining days.  Overall my blog has been very positive and I like to keep it that way because I have no right as a foreigner to come to a country and just complain about someone else’s culture.  But lately I’m beginning to feel more negative about being here and I feel as though I am in a rush to come home.  I need to remind myself that two years ago I was in a rush to leave home.  Living in the present is much easier said than done.  As my journey in Korea is coming to a close I want to reflect on the things about Korea that I will miss and the things that I definitely won’t miss. Regardless of how I feel at the moment, I know that when I leave, a part of my heart will be always be in Seoul.

What I will miss about Korea:

*My students

*My amazing friends

*My co-teachers

*My job

*Having my own apartment

*Public transportation

*Traveling around Asia

*Being the minority (and the attention I get from it…note this is on my list of thing I will miss and won’t miss)

*The nightlife

*My amazing friends!

*The cheap, efficient, and effective healthcare

*Korean food

*Norebang

*Jjimjilbangs

*Parks

*Coffee shops

*Being able to get cheap prescription glasses in 30 minutes

*Shopping

*”Servicee!” at the beauty shops

*My amazing friends!!!! (did I say that already?)

What I won’t miss about Korea:

*Being the minority (and the negative attention, stereotypes, and at times downright racism that comes with it)

*The language barrier

*Not being able to find things in a grocery store

*One-size-fits all clothing and mentality

*Lack of diversity

*Pushing and shoving while getting onto the subway

*Men spitting everywhere

*Corn in my pizza

*Korean couples

*Soju

*K-pop

*Plastic surgery advertisements

*Deskwarming

*The noises of loud, old, drunk men at night

*School lunch

*Walking through crowded streets of Koreans who are too busy looking at their cell phones and don’t watch where they are walking

*Hearing, “Heh-roh! Whe-ah aw you puh-rum?” from a stranger

*Inconvenient banking hours

*Obsession with a “small face” and a “high nose bridge”

*Homophobia

*Not having a car

*Being a “waygookin” (foreigner)

A Hidden Gem in Korea: The Garden of Morning Calm

 

Wintertime at the Garden


Springtime at the Garden

When first entering the Garden of Morning Calm (아침고요수목원) you instantly feel as if you have arrived in some magical paradise. Whether you decide to visit this garden for the winter light festival or the spring flower festival, your surroundings will be breathtaking. This garden has an attraction for every season of the year.  I was fortunate enough to see the garden during the winter and spring seasons.  The pictures really can’t capture how beautiful this garden truly is, but they can give you an idea.

Winter Light Festival:

 

Spring Flower Festival:

View of the Garden from Above

Explosion of Color

Tulips

Posing with the flowers

Rock Garden

Happy Mother’s Day!

If you want to make the journey to the garden from Seoul, it’s no easy journey. There are several routes that you can take from Seoul, but all involve a subway, buses, and possibly a taxi. Your best bet would be to drive there so if you have a car or are able to rent a car in Korea I would recommend that.  Another option would be to stay at a pension overnight.  There are dozens of pensions scattered all throughout this area.

Here is some information:

From Cheongpyeong station (Gyeongchun line) you need to walk to the Cheongpyeong Intercity Bus Terminal.  From the bus terminal you can take a 30 minute bus to The Garden of Morning Calm (아침고요수목원).  You will know you’re getting close when the bus starts driving along hilly dirt roads.

If you are coming from the eastern part of Seoul you might want to go to Dong Seoul Bus Terminal. (Gangbyeon station line # 2 exit #4) You can take a bus (1 hour ride) to Cheongpyeong bus terminal and then transfer to take the 30 minute bus to The Garden of Morning Calm. This will take approximately 1 1/2 hours.