June 11, 2008 Author: Beth Salerno
My adventure in Korea is almost over. In just over one week I will be back in the U.S. I still have two finals to give and grades to turn in. And my husband is coming, so I will be grading those finals on a tropical beach! But the end is rapidly approaching.
Many travelers suggest that one should prepare to come home much the way one prepares to go away. Beyond buying the tickets and packing, one should think about unpacking and settling back into a place that may not quite feel like home. “Reverse” culture shock is the realization that neither you nor the world are the same as when you left.
That comes as no surprise to me. During my time in Korea, two relatives were diagnosed with cancer, and one broke two bones. Friends got new jobs and colleagues got pregnant. Students graduated, new faculty were hired, staff moved on. Plants in my house and my garden died. My cats have probably forgotten who I am.
Of course I have changed too. What I “usually” do or what is “normal” to eat or what I “expect” to happen is different as well.
So what does all that mean for preparing to come home? And how can you, each of you, help?
1) Please understand that readjusting will take time. I will likely be surprised by things you think are absolutely normal (”Oh, that’s right, we don’t recycle those Styrofoam trays under the steak”). I will not know things you thought everybody knew (”When did that happen? Oh, you had a big meeting about that? Last semester?”). I might seem off balance at strange times (perhaps when I first meet someone and am reminding myself not to bow). While I might seem perfectly settled in week 2 or 3, remember that culture shock and reverse culture shock often hit in week 6, when you realize “this really is my life, this is normal.” Or in month 6, when you think “OK, I’m ready to go back now.”
2) Please understand that talking about something else will take time too. All I have done for the past year is live in Korea. While you talk about your vacation, your kids or your job, I will talk about Korea. Everything will relate to Korea because I do not have much else! I will try not to share every story with everyone, and there may even be a stretch where I am tired of talking about Korea (just as you get tired of talking about a pregnancy or a vacation or an illness). But to ask me not to talk about Korea is to ask me to not talk about a year of my life. And to not ask about it is to ignore a year of my life.
3) Please understand that reconnecting will take time, but is exactly what I need to do. I have been very blessed with friends and family who worked hard to keep up with me while I was gone. But I will have a lot of people to catch up with when I get back, while also trying to settle into old routines, a new semester, and “normal” life. So if you are inclined, please make an effort to reconnect - lunch dates, emails, phone calls, office “drop bys”, dinners - whatever works for you. There will be moments when I just need to hide, when settling back in or readjusting is more work than I can handle. Please understand, and try again.
I learned coming here that no matter how much I prepared, life was not what I had expected. It will not be what I expect at home either. But preparing might just make it a little bit easier - for me and everybody else.
Entry Filed under: living abroad