Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Survival Tip: Reverse Culture Shock

Merry Christmas to you and yours from the Professional Waygookin!

I only had to spend one Christmas away from my family since moving to Korea. It was my first Christmas and it sucked, seeing as it was also my first Christmas EVER being away from my family. The second Christmas I surprised my family, but I'm totally never doing that again. I think that, as a result, my family expects me to spontaneously appear at all family gatherings.

One of the big things about returning to your home country is reverse culture shock. I've spoken about this before, but it merits revisiting. This is VERY REAL and can be slightly more jarring than your actual culture shock in your adopted country. The main reason why it's more jarring is that you feel like it totally shouldn't be happening! This is supposed to be "normal," but now it's completely abnormal! It leaves you questioning everything as you attempt to adjust to this "new new normal."

So here they are:

Top Ten Symptoms of Reverse Culture Shock

1) Being shocked that people in retail and food service all speak English FLUENTLY!

The entire time I've been home I've found myself full of my regular "service industry" anxiety and prepping my Korean vocabulary before interaction occurs. It typically goes something like this:

Me: (thinking) Ok, I want to order a bacon cheeseburger... how do I say that in Konglish? Okokok, 베이컨 치즈 버거, ok, now, how am I going to add fries and a drink onto that...
Employee: Hey, what can I get for you?
Me: 안녕하... I mean... uhhh could I... 한... one bacon cheese burger 주새요... I mean... please
Employee: (looking at me like  have "special needs") Uhh... ok...

After this I walk away like...

2) Remembering why downloading TV shows and movies is far superior

I mean, seriously, why is there nothing on TV? And how am I expected to jump into the middle of a season of ANYTHING and understand what the crap is happening? And why do I now HAVE TO understand what's happening in the commercials? Really, it's so much more fun when I have to guess what it's for until they show the logo. 

Wait, what does all that slow-mo of kangaroos jumping have to do with laundry soap?!
3) Your digestive system can no longer handle 3-square meals of you native cuisine

I haven't had this bad of gas since... the last time I had to experience 3-square of a new cuisine... oh wow, is this going to happen every time?!

4) Converting the prices of everything into the currency of your adopted country

Ok, so Korean Won is kind of cheating, since typically 10,000won is approximately $10, but it's obnoxious when you're dealing in higher amounts.

Your face, when drunk and looking into your wallet and seeing your adopted and native currencies, but unable to precisely recall which country you are in.

5) Trying desperately to not sound stuck-up or condescending when speaking about life in your adopted country or your travels

Back in your adopted country, the phrase "Oh, I had a long weekend, so I just popped over to Hong Kong" will typically elicit nods of understanding or recounts of their own four days in Thailand/Japan/China/Singapore. In your home country, your third story taking place in any other country will be met with...

Be kind to your homies, they may not have the wanderlust you do, or they do and do not have the meas with which to scratch their itch. It's best to tread lightly... but come on, they totally need to hear that story about the Chinese woman being chased by a monkey in Vietnam.

6) Access to once impossible-to-find foods is now shockingly possible, and you either gorge yourself on them or wonder why you ever missed them in the first place

After one week, this becomes "where's the kimbop?!?!"
In Korea... If I don't have a decent cup of drip coffee soon I'm going to STAB SOMEONE IN THE GALLBLADDER  WITH A CHOPSTICK!!!
In America... I miss iced Americanos...

7) Your family/friends will definitely get irritated at how often you slip into the language of your adopted country when responding to simple questions/ talking to yourself

I'm not lying to you, this conversation legit occurred the other night:

Father: Maggie, are you going to come with me to choir rehearsal?
Me: 네 아빠
Father: See, I told you she wasn't going to want to!
Me: Dad... 네 means "yes"
Father: Oh... well... we're leaving in 15 minutes... speak English!

Those of us in the expat community will typically respond to each other's questions using the language of our adapted country, as a means of practice. With me, at least, it's the same when I'm talking to myself. This becomes slightly stranger when no one around you understands a single word of what you're saying.

And, worst of all, your Korean knowledge most of the time is like...
Uhhhh... add 이요 at the end... that makes it Korean, right?

But when you have no use for it, it's all...
8) You'll be desperate to try and share the food/culture of your adopted country to bored friends/relatives all the time screaming in your head "PLEASE SOMEHOW MAGICALLY UNDERSTAND HOW AMAZING THIS IS!!!"

Our new Boxing Day tradition is a Korean feast. They also receive all Korean themed Christmas presents. I will typically also blast Korean music and forward people Korea-related articles. This is all in attempt to make them see why I've chosen to live there. The thing you'll need to eventually accept is that this attempt is futile unless you can convince any of these people to visit or move there. No one outside of your adopted country or culture will ever appreciate it or understand it the way you do.

9) You have lost all ability to have conversations with people you have literally NOTHING in common with.

There was a man sitting next to me on my flight from Tokyo to Detroit with who I had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in common with. He had been visiting Japan for the first time on business, lived in Kentucky, and wanted to tell me about his plans to build an extremely handicapped-accessible house "just in case (he) ever winds up in a wheelchair." I've never been to Kentucky except to drive through it; have no interest in building a house, let alone a handicap-accessible one; and the city he had been visiting in Japan wasn't even one I'd been to! However, he was determined to talk to me, while I attempted to not roll my eyes in boredom.

In your adopted country, you instantly have something in common with anyone you meet who can speak your language, whether native or fellow foreigner. With natives, you can exchange ideas about your cultures or ask each other questions about your homelands. With other foreigners... well... you're both foreigners... so you have SOMETHING to talk about. You've become used to this, so it's going to be hard to re-adjust to pleasantries with strangers.

10) It will be really strange how quickly you default to past habits and roles

You'll be shocked how, in your childhood home, you revert to childhood roles. When I was visiting family in Boston, I was fairly similar to who I am in Seoul, but once back in Maine it was time for pjs... pjs all the freaking time, overeating, TV binging while not actually paying attention but actually surfing the or reading, and being mentally off-balance due to spending entirely too much time inside my own brain. I love my family to death, but man do I miss being busy with my life in Seoul.


  1. "You'll be shocked how, in your childhood home, you revert to childhood roles."

    I don't think you have to leave your /country/ for this. I study and live 90% of the year 700kms from my parents' house, which isn't even the one I grew up in, and eeeeverytime I come back to my parents', this happens xDD

    Other than that, I loved the post! Really funny, too xD It's really hard for me to adjust from my 'living alone' habits to my 'living with parents' habits, so I guess it has to be 10x worse when you've moved to the other side of the world xD

  2. hahaha.. loved it.. especially the .GIFs ... i had been living for 10 years away from my parents' home.. n now i'm back i realise being at home is not the same anymore.. in the sense your take is about loving it.. i rather feel like a different person came back home than the one who left.
    the one who left it didnt wanna go, and the one who's back doesnt wanna come back

  3. Wow! Okay! That's a huge load of Reverse Culture Shock!
    I think you're really cool, how dedicated you are to your blog. I suck at keeping up with stuff like this lol. Great job! I really enjoyed the gif references.

    1. Aww, thanks so much! I've felt like I've been pretty lazy with it. Running out of ideas, though I have a few things in the works. Thanks so much for reading and let me know if there's anything you'd like me to write about!