Sunday, July 25, 2010

Place your bets here...

Well... I'm starting to think that my reverse culture shock (yes, this actually happens when people re-integrate into their home culture) is going to be pretty bad. Why?

I keep thinking stuff like:

"Korea and America aren't that different. When I was home on vacation last summer it was all basically the same."

"I can get by without a car. Did without a car for three years here. No problem!"

"America's boring. Nothing new or surprising."

"Korean kids and American kids are pretty much the same. I'll be fine in an inner city Title One school (or conversely, a high pressure academic IB or AP filled school). No sweat."

"I can keep up my hiking very easily in America!" (especially funny in combination with my second thought)

"I'm sure I can save a lot of money. It can't cost THAT much to live in the U.S. There've got to be non roach-infested apartments in the greater DC area for less than $1200/month, right?"

At least these are the thoughts I can CATCH myself making that I know are blatantly false. I probably have hundreds of other thoughts setting me up for major reverse culture shock that I'm not even aware of how wrong they are.

Fact is, I've lived here three years and adapted to life pretty damn well. I'm dandy with the ketchup and mustard in bag-like "bottles." With the sharp, metal chopsticks for salad (heck--it's EASIER now than using a fork). With only understanding about 50% of what's going on around me (and then only if I choose to listen to it... it's easier to tune out here). With kids staring and pointing and shouting "hi" without there being something freakishly wrong with my appearance. With the smell of kimchi and food trash in the summer. With being taller and bigger than the majority of women and about 60% of men. With concrete block apartments where you can smell your neighbor's cooking. With people drying their clothes and linens and red peppers on the rooftops. With exercise parks at the tops of mountains. With assigned theater movie seating. With parking people in and leaving a cell phone contact number on your car. With calling cell phones "hand phones." With the limited selection of Western groceries. With super-futuristic interior design and lots of high-tech gadgetry. With "maybe" meaning "probably," and "I think you should..." from your boss as an order. With the different logic of the traffic. With people bumping into you and the lack of personal space. With casual nudity in shower rooms. With OTC drugs not sold at convenience stores and snacks/hygiene products not sold at pharmacies.

At some point all of these things were annoyances or surprises. I don't even think about them these days (I mean, I did just now... for this post... but well, you know what I mean). There are other things I'm sure I'm so used to at this point I've probably forgotten that they're different.

I know (KNOW) that I'm going to have to work really hard not to always say "Well in Korea they BLAH BLAH BLAH," more than 3-4 times a day. It's ok for Min Gi to say it--he's from Korea--but my co-workers, friends, family members, and students are going to get mighty sick of it pretty darn fast.

So, blog readers, I guess what I'm saying is that returning to America's going to be a pretty big adventure, too, now that I'm three years out. I don't know who this Justin Bieber character is and care more (right now) about the sinking of the Cheonan and nuclear threats from the North than the protesting of BP or the "tea party" nonsense. It's going to be a little rough...

Now's the time to place your bets on how long it will take me to have my first major culture shock meltdown in America... Get while the getting is good! (My bet would be that it's a good month or two before my husband has any signs of culture shock... haha.)


  1. The culture shock hit quicker for me than JJ. I think she was still in awe of living in a new place. It was the little things that got to me at first. It was mainly the convenience factor of living in Korea vs. living in a Mississippi. These included needing a car, good delivery food, not having to worry about drinking and driving, and having a huge metropolitan city so close.

  2. That stuff hit me right away it was little things that creeped up later that surprised me. A rather embarrassing example is when I was in a store, having finished buying something I was distracted with my own thoughts and when I was at the door ... I just stood there because it wouldn't open. I then said to the cashier "What's wrong with your door?" to which they replied "You have to push..." ahhhh damn you Asia and all your electronic conveniences!

    There's hope!!

  3. I didn't go home or to an English-speaking country in the two years i was in Korea, so when I could suddenly understand English in the airport, I wanted to rip my own ears out.

    Fun times.

    I think the better your time in Korea, the worse your reverse culture shock. But that's just my impression. ;)

  4. Just amazing to see how well you have adapted to life in Korea. Life is always easier when you truly understand the meaning behind "when in Rome do as the Romans do" So I believe reverse culture shock will only take a short time.

  5. Thanks for the supportive comments, guys. I try to stay positive most of the time... I think the shock will be eased a lot if I can find a job. ;-) I guess we'll see.

  6. In two weeks Marc and I will be moving into some apartments in Alexandria that are $1050/month, all utilities included. 2 blocks from a blue line metro stop, 1 block from Del Rey's main street, and 4 blocks from Old Town. They're small (about 700sqft), but they're nice - wood floors, 1940s architectural details, etc. The community there is good too - friendly neighbors. Let me know if you're interested. We could be neighbors!

    Also - I have a friend who teaches Chinese at an inner city DC school, who can probably give you some advice on which schools to avoid. Fairfax and Arlington counties are also hiring, which is another option.

    Readjustment will be difficult, but you'll get used to it eventually. Even though I was only in Korea for a year, I still find it hard not to constantly compare my experiences there to my experiences here, even one year later. With time, though, you will readjust.



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