I’d imagined what it would be like to go home after living abroad for a long time. I wondered how I would react to those around me and how I would perceive the world that was once familiar to me. I was determined to make the experience as positive as possible despite the inevitable challenges I would face.
I was so eager to leave Korea that by the time it was time to move on, I didn’t feel connected to my life there any longer. I didn’t feel happy and I didn’t like living in Korea anymore. I felt stuck and uncomfortable. Korea was no longer serving me – anyone who knows me knew this to be true. I felt an overwhelming feeling of peace as soon as I felt the wheels tuck into the plane and I watched Korea’s topography get smaller and smaller.
COMING HOME AFTER LIVING ABROAD
As soon as I saw the mountains in California I was grinning ear to ear. Tears welled in my eyes and a joy in my heart took over my body. I was [almost] home.
I didn’t experience much of the dreaded “reverse culture shock” that I had heard so much about. My family was incredibly welcoming and is extremely supportive of my lifestyle and ambitions, which certainly made it easy to effortlessly spend time with them and catch up for lost time. My family asked mindful questions, focusing more on the positives on the months to come rather than grilling me on the fact that the next year of my life is totally unplanned and somewhat whimsical.
I also spent a lot of time with my childhood friends, reaffirming that these relationships will remain unchanged regardless of whether or not I’m choosing to live my life abroad or not. Knowing that I will always have a loving and supportive group of friends and family is such an awesome feeling and definitely made leaving home a little harder this time around.
MY EXPERIENCES HOME AFTER LIVING ABROAD
While I didn’t totally experience any sort of major culture shock, there were a few things that were a bit overwhelming at first. Some of the issues were definitely present when I initially left America, while others were certainly something that became foreign to me after coming home after living abroad for so long.
I had to get accustomed to hearing English
When I first stepped off the plane in Los Angeles I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the amount of Spanish and English that I was hearing. It’s a feeling I can’t quite explain and can’t be experienced unless you go home after living abroad for awhile. Though I taught English and conversed in English for two years of my life in Korea, I was still constantly hearing Korean at all times. Being able to understand conversations, both meaningless and substantial, was incredibly mind-boggling for the first few days.
I came face to face with America’s racism problem
I was extremely embarrassed to witness the way non-English speakers were treated while going through customs and immigration once I landed back on American soil. I quickly realized my privilege when the same immigration officer who told a Chinese speaker to, “get out of my face and try harder to learn English” greeted me with a smile and a few [super lame] jokes. It broke my heart to know these are the first people non-Americans are meeting when they enter the country. This sort of mockery and belittling should not be a representation of the country, and yet, it is.
I took a road trip with my dad through the American south during the first leg of my trip and while I had an awesome time, I was totally confused by a few of the situations I encountered – particularly after living abroad. For instance, while traveling through Tennessee, we had to take a detour through a holler and I was astounded at the blatant bigotry that we saw along the drive. There were lots of gun shops, Donald J. Trump support signs and lots of confederate flags. I definitely felt like I was driving through a different world, certainly one that is full of uneducated and closed-minded American citizens. It broke my heart a little bit to see this type of hatred in person.
I forgot how to do basic tasks
I searched high and low for a quality meal that I could deem worthy as a first back in the states. I came across an awesome restaurant that had a salad with ingredients such as goat cheese, quinoa, avocado, serrano peppers and red radishes – all items that I missed having easy access to hardcore while living in Korea.
First of all, I was a bit taken aback by the fact that the server at the restaurant asked me several times how my meal was. When I finished eating I requested the check and brought the receipt up to the front counter, expecting to pay. When the server informed me she needed to run my card and give the receipt back to me once more in order to tip, I’d realized that I had TOTALLY forgotten about this sort of paying process in the states.
For those who aren’t aware of the dining situation in Korea, I’ll explain so you can understand why I was temporarily confused. When you eat in Korea, you generally seat yourself, order and then the server brings the food out. There’s not really much conversation involved and often times it’s up to you to get your own water, chopsticks and napkins. Some restaurants have buttons that you press when you’d like to request a server to the table.
Despite the fact this had been my eating experience for two years, I was still a bit embarrassed to realize that I had completely forgotten how to do something so simple.
In addition to completely forgetting how to pay a bill at a restaurant, I had a really hard time remembering to throw toilet paper in the toilet. Much to my family and friends’ happiness, throwing my toilet paper in the trash can was a habit I quickly learned to squash during my time home.
I realized most of my peers in America are in severe student loan debt
The student debt crisis in America isn’t a secret. Everyone knows there’s a major problem happening across the nation, and the sad part is that young people don’t always have a choice other than to temporarily defer their loans. Many of my friends back home have moved on to successful jobs; they’ve become attorneys, media consultants, medical industry professionals and teachers.
Almost each of them are swimming in student debt ranging from $40,000 to $250,000 USD. The crazy part is that my friend who has the most debt attended state schools for each of his/her degrees. Hearing these stories after college was crazy enough – hearing how the debt snowballs into oblivion when even higher education endeavours are achieved is something I had a really hard time wrapping my head around. I feel extremely grateful to be able to be living this sort of lifestyle without any debt, which is something I will never take for granted.
I was reaffirmed in the fact that nobody really wants Donald J. Trump to be the presidential nominee
While I successfully avoided any sort of political debates during my time home, I did find it comforting to be reminded that most people don’t want that guy to win. Despite this, everywhere I went in America had political news broadcast from the televisions focused on the racist bigot. It didn’t matter if it was Fox News or CNN, he has, and will most likely remain, the topic of discussion in the months to come. This man was the subject of dozens of conversations – both overheard and ones I participated in – and they all were generally revolving around a collective confusion that has swept the nation. And yet, he’s winning in the polls. C’mon, America.
I regained a newfound appreciation and adoration for my country
The United States of America has some major issues. In my opinion, one of the most significant problems we’re facing as Americans is the fact that there is such a notable division, which is something I witnessed when I went home after living abroad. The media pins individuals against one another across a variety of categories; political, religions, sexuality choices, women, men, young, old, non-white and white… the list could go on forever. The issues we’re facing as Americans are currently driving our nation into the ground, which is something that has to end.
Despite all of this, America is my home and I am proud to call myself an American. I think without appreciating one’s own country, people can get dragged into a negative mindset and can feel a disconnect from their roots. Of course America frustrates me, but it also brings me great memories and connections. After everything, there’s no place like home.