I’m sitting in my apartment on a Saturday evening watching the sunset with a beautiful view of the Minneapolis city skyline. It’s been exactly 1 year since I arrived back home to Minnesota. One year ago on Sept 1st, 2017 I arrived to the Minneapolis airport. Waiting outside of the arrivals gate, my parents and 3 siblings squeezed into my Dad’s suburban with American flags waving out the doors and sunroof cheering loudly as they drove up to pick me up. One whole year ago! And one of my favorite memories to this day was seeing them drive up to pick me up. I finished writing this blog about 4 months ago but haven’t decided to post it until now. I’ve debated over and over again what to write about and what to share with returning. I learned so much about myself the past two years while living in Korea but also learned even more about myself this past year returning. It was really difficult to return and I basically went through all of the steps of the grieving process.
Reverse Culture Shock is a real thing and I can fully say I experienced it all. Writing has always been an escape for me and a healthy way to express my thoughts and feelings. I really loved sharing my two years in Korea with all of you readers and the messages I’ve received from many of you have been wonderful. I’ve gotten lots of questions asking how did I find the courage to do it, what to pack, parents concerned about their children going and many more. I felt bad this past year for not writing any posts but truthfully I couldn’t get down the words to write or express how I felt so I allowed myself to take a break and I knew that when I was ready I would sit down and write. I hope that some people can relate to these feelings and find a sense of hope when they read about reverse culture shock and that things will turn around for the better. Reverse culture shock is real. It’s painful. It’s confusing. You feel alone and lost and a sense of longing for what you felt so comfortable with when you first returned.
I wanted to share some of the signs of reverse culture shock that I experienced. Some of you may never experience this when you return and that is wonderful. It really depends on your own experience, how long you were gone, where you went, and your own personality. You can have reverse culture shock even moving across the country. There’s no one-size fits all. I will be writing about all of the feelings you may go through but I will also write more below about ways to work through those feelings and get back to yourself again. I don’t want everyone to think that it’s all negatives when you arrive…because that’s not true at all. There is always a reason why you return to your home country and those are very positive things! But wanted to express the hardships of getting there. So bear with me during this long post. Here we go!
Signs of Reverse Culture Shock
- Honeymoon Stage: It’s really exciting being home and seeing everyone at first. It typically doesn’t hit you right away that you have officially left. This lasted a few months for me before full on reality hit.
- Feeling alone: I returned to an amazing support system with my family and friends. But there were many times I felt very alone in the feelings I experienced.
- Missing your friends that were with you everyday in your past country. This was huge for me. In Korea, all of my close friends and I went through very similar experiences. We loved and appreciated many things and also went through many hardships as well. We knew the mannerisms of the country like we grew up there our whole lives.
- Re-building relationships: You can’t expect your relationships with family and friends to be the exact same as when you left. Just as they aren’t the same as when you left. Time goes by and many things happen and there also may be some resentment and confusion of why you even left in the first place. This takes time and effort to re-build those relationships and honestly the best thing to do is work on those relationships by spending time with the people you care about the most!
- Third culture: Being immersed in one culture for a long time and then moving back to your home country which has a completely different culture. Combining the two cultures can be hard and stressful. This can develop a third culture, which have shared commonalities between the two.
- No longer feeling “special” Anyone who has lived in Korea can understand this. I spent two years hearing how wonderful my hair was, my blue eyes, my long real eye lashes, my height, my curves. Everything. And when you come back to the USA, it’s a real shock when all of a sudden you are not the only special one anymore.
- Home country flaws: You can see all of the flaws of your home country and they feel more amplified than ever. Such as, wow the bars close at 2 AM, I can’t have wine on a park bench, dating is so hard here, our transportation system is horrible, why is the USA sooooo big and expensive to travel.
- Boredom with your life back home. Everything feels the same as when you left it.
Ways to help and continue to move FORWARD
When deciding when to leave Korea, my dad gave me the best advice anyone could have given me. He told me to leave Korea while I was still on a high. I left with no negative feelings and was so grateful for my experience. I know far too many people who were so ready to leave the country. They were tired of the cultural differences or missed their home way too much. I was glad that I left when I did. And when I returned, once again, my parents gave me life-changing advice. Don’t stop moving forward. Don’t let your life be in pause or rewind. Stop looking at the past and start moving. I have the personality that loves change and excitement. Why would I stop those things? I started graduate school the week I returned to Minnesota. My life took a complete 180. I lived with my parents for 8 months while saving to move out. The day my parents said this to me I began to look for apartments and found one. I was afraid because I was a graduate student that I wouldn’t have the funds to live on my own but I was once again reminded “You somehow moved yourself across the world without knowing a single person and saved the money to do that. And you question whether or not you’d be able to pay for rent. Millions of people are making due with what they have and they are moving forward. Don’t let that fear stop you. What are you waiting for?” I moved into a new apartment 2 months later and I could not be any happier. I am so grateful for my parent’s support and love when I returned and that they gave me the extra push to continue on with my life and to keep growing. We always have to keep growing.
Here are some ways that helped me move past reverse culture shock and continue on with my life:
- Be thankful. Be thankful for your life and what you have had the opportunity to do. Be thankful for others and their love for you. Be thankful for those that missed you and are happy for your return. Be thankful for those that miss you leaving and know you always have someone to visit.
- Build up your relationships and friendships: even if it feels hard at first. Most likely, there’s a reason they were in your life before you left, and it’s important to not forget that.
- Make new memories with family and friends. The more you spend time, the easier it becomes and the more memories, inside jokes, and feelings of “normal” will begin to happen without you even realizing it.
- Journal. Write how you feel. The ups. The downs. Just write. It helped me so much. I am a huge advocate for writing journals and the power that writing can do to help.
- Be kind to yourself. Don’t give yourself a time limit on when to feel better.
- Allow yourself to grieve. Of course you will be sad when you return. You had to leave your home there. All the people you knew. Your apartment. Your schools. Your students. It’s okay to grieve. But don’t let yourself get stuck in grieving. You have to move onto brighter and better things ahead.
- Meet new people and build a community around you. You are never too old to make new friends.
- Find the culture within your own city. As soon as I arrived, I began to research the Korean community in my own backyard. I learned about authentic restaurants and actually found some really amazing ones. It makes the world feel smaller.
- Share your story. I think a lot of people are afraid that they will be that obnoxious person who constantly says “When I lived in _____.” I try hard not to be that person but I also recognize that this is a part of me and was the biggest growing experience in my life. I want to share stories with my loved ones and I also want to hear their stories. Don’t let yourself forget what you learned and what helped shape the person you are today.
- Find new hobbies. When I moved back I started boxing within the first couple weeks of moving back. It’s been an amazing stress reliever and I absolutely love it. I’ve found new friends at the gym and have gotten in shape as well.
- Remember why you came home. Don’t let yourself forget the reasons you came home. It’s difficult at times but there is always a reason you left that country and came back.
- Read this book: How to Survive Reverse Culture Shock: Understand It, Feel Better and Get Your Life Back! Workbook Edition By: Elena Nebreda. This book was a blessing to find. I was really low for month or so and I had been home for 6 months and began googling how to survive reverse culture shock and thankfully found this book. It was simple, refreshing and easy to read and it was life changing. I related to everything this book talked about and I didn’t feel alone anymore. And I realized that it was okay I was feeling these feelings and that it didn’t mean I wasn’t happy to be home. It just meant I had to work and adjust to being back. It was a huge turning point for me and I am so thankful I read it.
- Seek outside help if needed. I highly encourage anyone to go and talk with someone about how you’re feeling.
- Build a Third culture. This was mentioned above. I think it can be a wonderful thing being able to combine different cultures that you’ve learned and grown to love. It can be a beautiful thing once you find a comfortable balance for you and what that means to you.
- Start something new. When was the last time you started something new? I’m sure everyday you felt new changes happening in the country you lived in. New experiences, new food, new hobbies. Why would you let it stop you now that you’re home? Get out there and start something new!!! Make new changes. Move into a new apartment. Start a new job. Start new hobbies. Make new friends. Do you miss dancing? Go sign up for a dance class. Do you miss the food? Go to a Korean restaurant. Just do something! Search for events in your own neighborhood and see what’s happening. Search for adventures in your state. Plan a trip to visit friends. Start a new workout program. There are so many things you can do to make yourself still feel like you’re on an adventure. Our lives will always be an adventure. It just takes YOU to start one.
- Get back out there. For those who are true nomads, you know yourself better than anyone. If that’s the life you want to pursue, then start planning for where’s next! And if the nomad lifestyle is not for you, then at least start planning your next trip. I know you already have a few in mind 🙂
- Accept change. Change is a part of life. And it can be really difficult and is often out of fear of the unknown but also it can be a wonderful thing. The more accepting you are of change, the easier life will be for you and the more open you are to new experiences.
- Thank your family and friends. I don’t think anyone does this enough but I wouldn’t have been able to get through this year without the support of my family and close friends and I owe so much of my growing and life experiences to their never-ending support. I will never take that for granted.
After everything, was it worth it? 100% without a doubt: Yes.
Slowly adding to this post the past 4 months made me realize the growth and strength I have developed. I am truly happy where I am at right now in life. I love being around my family. Watching my niece and nephew grow and learn new things. Working through my two year graduate school program to pursue my next dream of becoming an elementary school teacher and being the first person in my family to receive a Master’s Degree! Being a part of my friend’s lives here and building new memories. I feel fortunate for the memories and friends I’ve made in my travels near and far and I will always hold them close to my heart. And I will look forward to every reunion I have with those dear friends who are second family to me. But I am glad to have the feeling of “normal” again and I am excited to see where my life takes me.
I recently read the book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F” and something really stuck with me from it. He said that although living all over the world and being a “free spirit” gives you such a high of experiences and an exciting life, there’s something really special about having roots somewhere and knowing you have security around you. I know part of me will always be a free spirit and I have loved my 20’s but I appreciate now that more than ever being surrounded by those closest to me and building my life here. I look forward to continuing to write about my experiences in Korea, my adventures and trips (past and present), as well as my experiences in graduate school with teaching. Thanks everyone for being patient and waiting a whole year for an update. It’s been quite a year and I’m happy to say I am home.
Love from Minneapolis,