Reverse Culture Shock

WARNING: Sentimental post ahead. You've been warned!

4 years in Korea. 4 birthdays. 3 different apartments. 2 cities. 2 jobs. 16 seasons. 

I find myself thinking about these things. As though breaking my "Korean experience" down into something quantifiable will make it easier to understand. I want to mentally compartmentalize my time there so I can try to make sense of my experiences.

I recently returned to New Jersey after 2 years in Jamsil, Seoul. (This is my second "homecoming", as I lived in Suwon for 2 years, then moved back home, then back to Seoul for round two from Feb 2015- March 2017).  Despite this being my second time saying "goodbye" to Korea, the reverse culture shock is hitting me much harder than I anticipated, since I've already gone through this before. Right now I'm trying to relax in my home country before deciding if I should go back to Korea or try and put some roots down in America.

For anyone who recently returned from living abroad, I think the article on this blog, although pretty dated, has the best discussion about reverse culture shock that I've found online. I'd classify myself as currently in the "emotional wig-out stage". Fun!

From what I have been experiencing, reverse cultural shock feels a lot like going through a break-up. I have felt physical pain in my chest, had random episodes of tears coming on (while driving is sometimes the trigger for this), feeling like no one can relate to you, feeling out of place. At the risk of sounding melodramatic: It can feel like your life is ending, because a chapter of it is.

Not getting joy from things you once enjoyed is really unsettling. I feel like I am on a precipice, one gust of nostalgia away from having some sort of identity crisis. The worst feeling for me has been realizing the ways my interests and even taste buds have changed:
  • When you eat something you once loved and now it tastes different or bland.
  • When you engage in an activity you once loved and don't feel the same appreciation or satisfaction. 
  • When you meet an old friend and realize how much you have grown apart.

WHAT'S A GIRL TO DO?!?! ::drumroll::

My techniques to dealing with Reverse Culture Shock!

I'm still trying to navigate this new space I'm in. I still feel lost, but what has helped a bit is replicating some routines from my Korean life, such as:
~Maintaining my Korean skincare routine (Korean skincare is a way of life!)
~Buying Korean food at the Asian supermarket
~Watching Kdramas (just finished Goblin 도깨비 and Age of Youth 청춘시대)
~Maintaining an exercise regimen
These activities provide temporary solace. A quick fix.


Another way I've been dealing with reverse culture shock is by trying not to think about my Korean life. I figured...I'll just shut my brain off! No memories to reflect on if I block everything. I've got it all figured out. Here's an example of how this technique has OBVIOUSLY BACKFIRED. 

Warm and sunny April afternoon in New Jersey, windows down, driving to the local park to go running. iPhone on shuffle, really appreciating old-school Tinashe circa 2012, internal monologue something like this: Wow her sound was so raw and so much more original than anything she does now...she's so talented but did she peak in 2012 before she even got famous? Player with Chris Brown was great even though I hate him....Superlove was mehh...She's such a great dancer why doesn't her management -

(Lost in my analysis of Tinashe's wayward career since 2012, I fail to realize the song has changed)

🎶그대여 그대여 그대여...🎶

Aww...Cherry Blossom Ending! haven't heard this in awhile....This song isn't so bad!...It's cherry blossom season in Korea right now....ahhhh....must be nice....::sniff:: Ohhhh no....no0o. No no no no HERE COME THE FEELS!!

The memories didn't just creep up, it was more like an avalanche and I felt my heart beating faster and my eyes watering.

Spring in Korea. Picnics on the Han River. Cherry Blossom Festival at Yeouido. Trees at Seokchon Lake in full bloom. Music and kimbap at Ttukseom Resort. Couples laughing, sleeping under the sun. Napping on a picnic mat. Popping champagne at the riverside. Buying cocktails-in-a-bag from university students. Counting kites in the sky. Sunset on the river. Bottles on top of cellphones as makeshift flashlights after sundown. Talking, dancing, laughing until midnight in the darkness. The simple joy of a beautiful spring day in Korea, of being outside, when the air is good.

So, I'm ugly-crying and "singing" Cherry Blossom Ending aka slurring unintelligible lyrics punctuated by heaving and trembling sobs. This really happened and I really felt like an out of control mess. I DON'T EVEN LIKE THIS SONG! 

If you're unfamiliar with this song, it debuted in Korea in 2012 (my first spring in Korea) and it has always served as a reminder for me and many others of how beautiful and special Cherry Blossom Season (the beginning of Spring) is in Korea. I loved this song when it was released, but it has become so overplayed in the country. During Spring, you can still hear it in cafes, in the streets, even in the river parks. I even heard someone blasting it from their car while driving through the Cherry Blossoms Festival in Yeouido which was admittedly pretty cute. Hearing this song in America was some sort of emotional trigger for me.

Tteukseom Resort on a Spring Day.

Lesson learned:
There are no shortcuts in dealing with reverse culture shock. Accept this. Embrace and face the fact that something great has ended. Search for new ways to find fulfillment and new things to discover. Otherwise, you will be one 벚꽃 BUTT-GOAT away from having a meltdown.
(* The Korean word for cherry blossom is pronounced similarly to BUTT-GOAT in English....kind of ruins the lovely associations you have when you hear the word "cherry blossom").

TL:DR: There's no use crying over spilled milk but sometimes you just have to pull over in your car and ugly-cry over spring butt-goat. ㅠㅠ


Popular posts from this blog

You can take the girl out of Korea...but she's still gonna bow to the ATM?

What is PyeongChang, South Korea like?

*UPDATED!* My Top 7 Favorite Korean Skincare Products