Tips for Adjusting to Small-Town America After Living Abroad

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Moving back to the U.S. after experiencing life abroad in South Korea was a significant shift for my husband and me. In South Korea, we were surrounded by a lively culture, vibrant temples painted with many colors, and charming cafes that were almost like works of art. But beyond the physical beauty, what truly made our time special were the friendships we formed—the people who made every day an adventure. Each day felt like a new chapter, filled with exciting experiences and discoveries. Adjusting to the slower pace of small-town America in northern Illinois after such a dynamic life in South Korea presents its challenges.

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Table of Contents

The Pace of Life in Small-town America

One of the most significant adjustments has been the pace of life. In South Korea, everything moved quickly. From the fast-paced work environment to the bustling streets filled with soju drunks at all hours, there was a constant buzz of activity. In contrast, small-town America moves at a more leisurely pace. Shops close early, weekends are quieter, and the daily hustle feels less frantic. This slower pace offers a chance to unwind and appreciate the simple joys, but it can also feel isolating, especially when you’re used to the constant energy of city life abroad.

Adjusting to small-town America might be easier than I thought. I’ll definitely have some content to blog about for Duffelbagspouse Travels. The Quad Cities region has many tourist attractions, festivals, and natural beauty. The region attracts over 6.1 million visits annually, contributing $1.3 billion in total visitor spending and supporting 9,097 tourism-related jobs (VisitQuadCities) (Quad Cities Chamber).

DID YOU KNOW?

The Quad Cities have been ranked as the #1 Best Small Cities for Remote Work (Forage, 2023) and the #3 Most Diversified Metro Economy in the U.S. (Livability, 2020)​ (VisitQuadCities)​.

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New Beginnings for Old Habits

Things to Do in the Quad Cities

Building a community in a small town is different. In South Korea, expatriate communities provided an instant network of friends and support, where we bonded over shared experiences of living in a foreign country. However, despite living on a military base in northern Illinois, connecting with others has been a challenge. Even though the environment is warm and welcoming, forming deep relationships takes time. To overcome this, attending local events, joining clubs, and volunteering have become essential strategies for building a new support system.

As I adjust to life outside South Korea, I’m reconnecting with the activities I loved there, like hiking. While job-hunting, I’ve discovered a few amazing trails. Steven and I have also embraced cafe-hopping here, finding several cozy spots. Plus, we’ve been exploring our new surroundings through day and road trips.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • The Quad Cities area has over 100 miles of trails, promoting outdoor activities and healthy lifestyles.
  • According to the American Hiking Society, hiking can reduce the risk of heart disease by 50% and improve mental health.
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Reese Witherspoon: “The wilderness had a clarity that included me.”

Hitting the Nature Trails

Exploring the scenic trails of the Quad Cities is a refreshing escape for any adventurer. Conveniently located near winding paths along the Mississippi River, the Quad Cities area offers a blend of urban charm and natural beauty. I enjoy hiking in this region because, despite the absence of mountain views, it provides panoramic scenic views, beautiful nature, and abundant wildlife. Whether I’m a seasoned hiker or just looking to stretch my legs, these hiking spots offer a perfect blend of refreshment and adventure.

Sunderbruch Park Trail in Davenport is one of my favorites, with its diverse paths and captivating scenery. I love the Bluff Trail for its moderate hike through vibrant woodlands. The Illiniwek Forest Preserve boasts over five miles of trails and a scenic overlook along the Mississippi River in Hampton. During spring, the wildflowers add vibrant splashes of color to my hikes. Lastly, Rock Island’s Black Hawk State Historic Site combines natural beauty with historical education. The shaded trails and ancient oak forest provide a cool retreat, while the Ridge Trail’s educational signage enriches my experience.

Vibrant Coffeehouse and Kitchen in Moline, Illinois

Embarking on our first coffeehouse adventure in the Quad Cities, Steven and I chose Vibrant Coffeehouse and Kitchen as our destination. Housed in a spacious warehouse-style setting, the coffeehouse offered a delightful array of coffee, desserts, salads, and sandwiches. The avocado toast, reasonably priced at $4.95, stood out on the menu. I love exploring coffeehouses, and I’ve found five more I think you’ll enjoy in my new city.

Upon entering, we were greeted by striking open trestled ceilings painted black and adorned with a captivating mix of industrial light fixtures. Natural light streamed in from five large skylights, and six red brick columns created intimate spaces within the expansive coffeehouse. A cozy seating area in the back, complete with a fireplace and mood lighting, added to its charm. The friendly staff even recommended exploring other coffeehouses in the Quad Cities, which I am excited to do.

Day and Road Trips

Minneapolis offers rich cultural experiences and natural beauty, perfect for day and road trips. The city’s diverse population brings vibrant festivals, authentic cuisine, and unique shopping. Whether exploring downtown, visiting the Mall of America, or enjoying the Normandale Japanese Garden, Minneapolis promises memorable moments. The city’s mix of nature, culture, and city life ensures a fulfilling experience for every visit.

When I venture further, I find serene escapes like Minnehaha Falls, perfect for a relaxing afternoon. Additionally, the falls offer picturesque spots for leisurely walks and quiet reflection. The Foshay Tower’s observation deck is a must-see for history and breathtaking views. As a fan of iconic music legends, I can’t resist the Prince Museum. It offers a deep dive into Minneapolis’ musical genius. Each location provides a unique slice of what makes Minneapolis fantastic for day trips and extended stays.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • According to the Trust for Public Land, Minneapolis has over 5,000 acres of parkland, making it one of the best urban areas for outdoor activities.
  • The Mall of America attracts over 40 million visitors annually, highlighting its popularity as a tourist destination.
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Tips for Adjusting to Small-Town America

Focusing on the positive aspects of our new environment and staying connected to our roots, we’re gradually finding our place in this slower-paced yet equally enriching chapter of our lives.

For those who are also transitioning from living abroad and adjusting to small-town America, here are a few tips:

  1. Get Involved: Engaging in local events, joining clubs, and volunteering are excellent ways to forge connections and integrate into the community. Back in Korea, I was an active Daegu International Women’s Association member. Recently, I’ve taken on the role of hub leader for the new Quad Cities chapter of Wanderful, a women’s travel organization.
  2. Stay Open-Minded: Embracing cultural differences and new experiences can unexpectedly enrich your life. Just as we advise travelers abroad, it’s essential to interact with locals. In my case, I’ve found a talented braider and connected with several individuals through Facebook.
  3. Find a Support System: Attending town halls and family events and connecting with fellow travel enthusiasts or couples who’ve undergone similar transitions can provide valuable support. I’ve also joined Wanderful and Strategic Links, a collaborative of entrepreneurs, though their reach extends across the country.
  4. Explore Your Surroundings: It is rewarding to take the time to uncover hidden gems in your new town. My husband and I have been embarking on day and weekend trips around the Quad Cities and beyond. We aim to visit all the states in this region; so far, we’ve explored Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota.

Final Thoughts

Moving to a small town after years abroad is a significant adjustment, but it’s also an opportunity for growth and new adventures. By embracing the change and finding joy in the little things, we can make this transition a rewarding experience. Adjusting to small-town America might take some time, especially after having a fun time abroad. I need to be patient with myself as I settle into my new life in northern Illinois. Who knows? Maybe I’ll discover some unexpected treasures and adventures waiting for me in these new surroundings. VisitQuadCities for more information.

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The author is the editor-in-chief and a black American woman and travel blogger who has lived South Korea and Germany as a military spouse.

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