Reverse Culture Shock

Home will always be home, just not the “home” you remembered it as.

After years in another place, whether you were missing home or not, going back home isn’t that seamless, and I wish reverse culture shock was more subtle, haha.  

For 3 years, I’ve called South Korea my home, and 3 months later, after traveling Asia, I returned home.

I worked at a truly Korean style company and went from 0 to professional proficient Korean in that time. My family raised us to bow as a greeting to elders, and now, I can’t stop myself from bowing to strangers. 

Why reverse culture shock?

The history and culture of a place influences the way people move and do life.

That’s clearly going to vary around the world. In Korea’s case, due to their history under Japanese occupation and efforts to recover, the people have honed an unending work ethic at a “bbali bbali (or quick quick) speed.

Part of assimilating to life there meant that you tried to outwork your peers and that everything was done, immediately; even your postal deliveries came within two days! 

Additionally, if you’ve gone as far as learning the language, performing the mannerisms, or building your community, the reverse culture shock might be a little worse, right? 

First, it’s comparison. Next, it’s loneliness.

Once you’re back, you might find yourself comparing differences between the countries and almost determining how you feel about them.

I used to love small talk, and now, it seems to be an unnecessary 5 minutes at every stop.

The challenge is when you want to discuss it, and there’s no one that understands or is as interested to talk about. It can be an isolating period, and no matter how well you anticipate it, it catches up to you. In between all of this, you should expect frustration: things just aren’t the way you want them to be.

So what do you ACTUALLY do? 

Ease the Pain

Here’s what I did, and I promise, there isn’t a single blog or video that’s going to have all of this in one:

  1. Get quality sleep and daylight: We have to get your mind stable so we’re not being dramatic about our situation. The body needs much time to adjust through time zones. Not just that, but it needs routine, and you have to actively set it. Eat on the local schedule to sleep on the local schedule (and sleep in a cool environment for that deeeeep rest). As soon as you wake, go for a 10-15 minute walk outside without sunglasses. This will set you up to sleep on time and improve your mood. 
  2. Build or Maintain Your Community: Feeling at home has everything to do with having a chosen family, and those people keep you rooted so you’re not floating around like a lost ghost. Stay in touch with friends abroad and make time to call. Reconnect with old friends that want to hear about your time abroad. If you don’t want to socialize because you’re that disoriented, record voice messages on your phone/tablet. At the very least, it only helps to talk about everything in your life. Save it, password lock it– done – Honorable mention: look for language exchange apps on your phone.
  3. Find a Purpose: Having a sense of duty and people to show up for, not only plants more roots where you are, but it’s a means to keep moving forward. Apply to jobs, use Youtube for ideas, volunteer at a museum: Work within your means with what time you have. Thankfully, it’s going to take a couple months or a few, so you’ll have time to process your situation before you start life again. I forgot to mention: if you’re restarting your career or pivoting (or just beginning), starting with nothing means it’s only up here.
  4. **Shoot Videos: You’ll never look, speak, or think how you do now, ever again. Luckily, if you’re still in the country, take more videos of you in places. The pain of awkwardness won’t compare to the pain of not having enough footage of your experience. Much later, you’re still going to reminisce, and you’re still going to share your stories. This is just a comforting way to do that without forgetting, yourself.    

At this point, I’m convinced that reverse culture shock won’t fully go away, especially if you’ve put your heart and soul into a country’s culture.

I’m also convinced that the best movies show a journey of ups and downs– and there’s plenty more ahead.  

About Destiny Kim

Destiny is a TravelBud Enrolment Coordinator and after a few years teaching English abroad in Seoul, South Korea, She gained Korean fluency, has been nearly everywhere, and, according to her friends, is the official ambassador of the country. A favorite she recommends is Gamjatang, pork bone soup, and Sokcho for a beach getaway.
Filed under  Teacher Talk 

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