Reverse Culture Shock: Goodbye South Korea, Hello USA!

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Navigating the Waves of Reverse Culture Shock: From Ocean Breezes to Hometown Streets

I miss living by the ocean and the mountains. And, I miss being able to go hiking and hear monks chat echo across Palgongsan. I miss feeling anxious, excited, unsure, and overwhelmed– all at the same time. And I definitely miss being able to shop for fresh fruit and vegetables at a corner market in either direction. It doesn’t take long for reverse culture shock to be a genuine hurdle for settling back into life at home. American Reverse Culture Shock is a phenomenon that goes beyond the anticipated cultural adjustments of moving abroad and reintegrating back into life in the USA.

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Unpacking Emotions: The Rollercoaster of Reverse Culture Shock

Returning to Life at Home

While stepping out of one’s comfort zone is well-known for those living overseas, the challenges of readjusting to life in the United States after an extended period abroad bring unexpected complexities. This transition yields immediate effects, sparking a natural inclination to make comparisons. After a month back in the USA, here are several observations that capture the subtleties of navigating the reverse cultural shifts of repatriation.

As anticipated, the lifestyles of South Koreans and Americans differ significantly. Naturally, each has its own pros and cons, contributing to the experience of reverse culture shock in America. At the same time, I don’t miss being stared at– through, sometimes. I miss quite a few things, good and bad, that force me to compare my life there and back here at home.

Check out this link to read about Bella, a beluga whale in captivity in Seoul, South Korea, for over a decade.

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House vs Apartment

Living in a house with both a front and back yard presents a blend of advantages and challenges. While some may not view yard work as a positive aspect, personally, I find it fulfilling. The act of getting my hands dirty in rich soil, cultivating flowers, and nurturing vegetables brings a sense of satisfaction. However, this experience is bittersweet, as I rarely get to witness these plants reaching their full potential.

The house features numerous stairs, offering excellent separation between public and private spaces. While this architectural design enhances privacy, the stairs can be inconvenient for frequent up-and-down movements—unless one recognizes the potential for a bit of extra exercise.

Having my garage is a significant convenience. It eliminates the need for parking lot hunts or crawling over the passenger seat to access my car when someone parks too close. If I forget something in the car, I don’t have to get fully dressed; I can warm it up before getting in, and any future dings will be my responsibility.

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Noise

Fortunately, noise from neighbors above or below is not a concern in our current living situation. Our house is situated on a tranquil street, minimizing the likelihood of disturbances from passing traffic, which should mainly consist of residents in the area.

Technology

Most of the technology we see in South Korea is available here in America but at a premium. For instance, I have yet to see a 4-D movie theater, but I’m sure they must be here. WI-FI is accessible everywhere, and charging stations are a fixture at cafes and restaurants. And boy, do I miss the heated floors and warm toilet when I wake up. However, what truly stands out are the impressive smart city initiatives and the convenience of accessing e-government services through mobile phones.

Employment

I expect I will have tons more opportunities for employment. Although I also expect the only ones that will provide the same flexibility, compensation, and benefits will be in the federal job market.

Did you know that you don’t normally tip in South Korea? You round up to the nearest whole number. That’s because their siciety believes they are being adequately paid. I don’t wholeheartedly believe that’s true in South Korea like it is in Europe. Getting paid a living wage is a global problem, not necessarily American one.

And while I don’t work to put food on the table. I would appreciate a fair wage. Everyone, every business that is, drones on about supporting the troops, but the last civilian job I had screwed me royally when I resigned to move abroad. Many of them say they understand the gaps and array of jobs on my resume. But that’s expected. I’ve had success in remote work, so that and the DOD, are what I’ll concentrate on.

Click here to read all about 4 of the best destinations for a spiritual retreat in 2024.

Utilities

Reintegration into our current living situation comes with both advantages and disadvantages. Residing on a post means that essential utilities like electricity, gas, trash, and water are included. However, while we were responsible for utility payments in our South Korean apartment, the owner covered the cable bill. Now, we must pay for cable separately, which is undeniably more expensive than in South Korea. Furthermore, the service quality here only measures up to the standard we enjoyed in Korea if we opt for an upgrade.

Politics

I’m frustrated with American politics. In Korea, politicians usually get one term due to limits, and jail awaits those found guilty of wrongdoing. In the U.S., it’s messy. A former President, accused of treasonous acts is running again. And everyone seems to be abdicating their responsibilities. Congress members focus on podcasts and social media, while the Supreme Court seems too active in overturning precedents and hanging out with rich people. What’s troubling is some supporters ignore rules, see erratic (tyrannical) behavior as normal, and disregard democracy. And the news has more opinion in it than actual news. It’s all surreal. Disinformation and misinformation reign supreme. I prefer foreign news programs and non-major news outlets. And even then, you have to follow the money to make sure you aren’t being gaslit.

Driving

I am aware of the driving, sleep-walking pedestrians, and protected left turns in South Korea. However, I am convinced we don’t need policemen driving up and down the roads. They cause more problems than they solve. We could adopt a more technical approach to policing using cameras. I never saw policemen pulling drivers over. The only time I saw them was when there was an accident or political unrest. If I got a ticket, I received it in the mail. There are just too many policemen cruising around American streets looking for trouble– in my humble opinion.

At Home

My bedrooms have carpet, which I hate. And I thoroughly miss my heated floors in the rest of the house. And while the partial view of the Mississippi River from the front windows isn’t terrible. It doesn’t compare with the sweeping view of the city and mountains from our apartment in Daegu.

All my outings will always begin by car. There is no public transportation available. That’s a huge political issue in this country. But that’s a topic for another day.

Fruit Stalls to Supermarkets: Adapting to the Shift in Daily Routines

I find joy in being able to read all the labels and ingredients since coming back home. Although it’s frustrating that I can’t pronounce most of the latter. The prevalence of processed food in our diet is noticeable. Korea and America share many fast-food chains, except Chick-fil-A, which we’ve visited several times since returning to the States. However, I can’t help but miss the local street markets in Korea. I used to go almost every day– grabbing only what I needed for a day or two. And as a result, I developed relationships with the owners, fondly remembering the smiles they greeted me with during each visit.

They have some farmer’s markets here. But I can’t walk to any of them them. And I know they will be expensive since only some healthy foods are reasonably priced. I can’t believe how much food costs now. It’s just less convenient than it is overseas. And while many supermarkets were modern, I had limited options. You just don’t see 100 salad dressings. You’re lucky if you see three or four. I got used to it. Sometimes, I’m overwhelmed to see how many options I have for everything. And it’s even worse when none of them are healthy.

Food

I miss the Korean cafe scene. I’ve been to several cafes here in America, and very few have reminded me of the cafe culture I experienced back in Daegu. Regarding food, fruits and vegetables don’t taste as good here. In my opinion, they are flavorless. I also miss all the fast and free WI-FI and charging stations at cafes all over South Korea.

We shared almost all our meals in Korea. We have continued that trend but for entirely different reasons. Meals are shared in Korea because it’s a communal / tradition. And I believe that makes eating healthier in the long run. In America, we are geared to getting the largest portions for the least amount of money. As a result, we share our meals now because it’s simply too much food to eat alone.

Healthcare

I don’t have a lot of health issues. But I do have chronic asthma and thyroid issues as a result of Graves disease. I am fortunate to have good insurance. However, living abroad, I have noticed a few things that really bother me about the healthcare system in America. Unfortunately, I could speak on this topic indefinitely, but I’ll name three issues I have right now. I need to mention that even though we were living in a foreign country, my primary physicians were located at American medical institutions. My specialists (neurologists, endocrinologists, and surgeons) were located at Korean Hospitals.

Firstly, no matter where you live, you have to be the most vocal advocate for your own health. American doctors and insurance companies are not in the healthcare business. They are in the health maintenance business. Fixing the problem doesn’t generate money; having you return repeatedly does. When I was in South Korea, I underwent a few procedures. Both of these were initially denied by my primary care doctors in the U.S. Fortunately, my Korean doctors decided surgery, not prescriptions, would be the best course of action.

Secondly

I had to buy a prescription that my health insurance did not cover. As a result, I had to pay the full price for it through the Korean Hospital. It cost me roughly $100 every three weeks. Here in America, the same dosage costs more than $1200. The only saving grace for me is that I can continue with the medication. My insurance will pay now because I have a pre-existing condition.

Finally, hospital stays in South Korea incorporate wellness. My foot surgeon wanted me to stay in the hospital for seven days. Not because I needed to be there but so I could rest and leave refreshed. Try that in an American hospital.

Covid-19

Covid is still a thing all around the world. However, Covid and its consequences seem to be taken more seriously in Korea. Did you know that here in America, we still lose 200 people a day? And we are still debating whether it’s real or whether vaccinations should be mandated. I was able to avoid getting COVID-19 for four years, and as soon as I went to a public function, I got sick. Luckily, all four vaccines worked, and my symptoms were relatively mild. I also know for a fact that my Korean friends would not attend a party if they were sick because they wouldn’t want to be the reason for a super spreader event.

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In Conclusion

I don’t think I’ll ever live in South Korea again, which makes me sad. No matter how many adventures I had, the coffees I drank, or the friends I struggled to speak to, I’ll always think I could have done more. I could have understood the country I’ll continue to miss. Until that is, this country sucks me back in. I have changed forever. Reverse culture shock makes me a different, more nuanced global citizen who wants the best life possible. And dear reader, I plan to continue the good fight at home. And that always begins with leaving my shoes at the door.

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