Guest post: Reverse culture shock – an update from Gone Seoul Searching

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Was it the reverse culture shock or moving back in with my parents?

In my previous update about moving back to San Diego after a year in Seoul I was still in a euphoric state where walking into the local pharmacy store CVS literally scared me. I was trying to become assimilated and jump back into the California lifestyle. This state lasted for about 2-3 months as I missed all of my favorite Korean destinations, stores, and foods but I was enjoying old favorites in San Diego and Los Angeles. Then my acculturation entered the toughest category of all, the separation phase or otherwise commonly known as the rejection phase. Why didn’t I experience such severe culture shock when I moved to Korea? Why was this so hard upon moving back to the United States? Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

My acculturation process got stuck at rejection for too long.

Let me start out by saying, I have some of the best friends and family anyone could ask for. However, the first 2-3 months I was still missing everything about Korea.  Then I grew into a deep state of depression. Everything about American culture became a huge turn off to me and I struggled to connect with the American way of life. I couldn’t believe how much TV everyone was watching and I struggled to believe that Americans lived a healthy lifestyle. I saw so many people driving around in their cars all day and then waiting in line at the drive through windows at In & Out. I missed walking around the city streets, getting lost, and exploring new places. I couldn’t do that here. Everything required a car, gas, time, money. Some of the best things in Seoul were free and all within walking distance. In America, I felt alone as I walked back to my house from the nearest parking lot on empty streets. I missed the crowded streets at 12 am on Monday nights and all of the bright lights and excitement. Everything back home just seemed dull.

Moving back in with your parents can make you feel like a failure.

I haven’t lived full time in San Diego for over 5 years. In Korea, I was able to make a strong group of expat and Korean friends within a matter of days. California seemed different. I was just another average person looking to make it in life. I wasn’t part of an elite group of foreigners (ESL teachers) that were striving to have the time of their life while traveling and working as a teacher to support their travel addictions. I felt like I didn’t belong. Most of my friends from college had moved away and my longtime friends from high school had all developed strong ties with other social groups that I did not feel a part of. I was devoting all of my time during the week to getting my graduate coursework finished and my fellowship duties so I could spend time with my boyfriend of the time every weekend. There was no time for me to look around and analyze how I was feeling and what I wanted to improve and how I could make improvements to better enjoy my time in California. I was completely overwhelmed with my transition and didn’t know how to handle it. As a result, I picked stupid fights to feel like I was in control. My boyfriend of the time to this day has such a strong social group and I felt diminished and not good enough because I didn’t have one and didn’t want to rely on his. He put so much emphasis on his friendships that it made me feel like there was something wrong with me for not having the same.

I gave up. I wanted Asia and that was the only thing that was going to bring me happiness. I saw all of  my friends from Korea traveling around the globe having the time of their lives and I was just sitting on my laptop typing paper after paper. Why did I give it all up? Just to get another stupid piece of paper that reads Master’s Degree? Party, but the other half of me returned home for my love. Things were getting serious and I wanted to progress my relationship to the next level. Hopefully by moving in together during the summer of 2012. But then there was my family.

Moving back in with your parents after living completely on your own is one of the hardest things anyone may ever do in their lifetime. I felt that I no longer had any privacy. I felt that I had somehow failed because I was back at their house. I felt that they asked too much of me. I felt that they didn’t want me to be there. I felt that I was a failure for being there.  Everything I felt was negative. I got stuck and harped on the things that bothered me about my family when I was young. I didn’t do anything differently or try to make any changes that would help my family and I adjust. I was used to doing things a certain way and I didn’t want to give that freedom up. I was going to move out, and spend a whole lot of money on student loans to do so.

I wish I would have checked out an article by Psychology Today about 10 tips for moving back in with your parents a long time ago. After my depression ruined my relationship, I decided to make drastic changes in my life. I began taking time to check-in with myself and think about what I needed to be happy. After about 2 months, I finally was able to break the ice with my parents and talk to them about things going on in our lives. We had a heart to heart and they finally understood what I was going through, and explained to me the reasons behind a lot of their recent decisions. One thing my Dad said to me was that my generation has never truly had to struggle. Because our parents’ generation is known as the givers, we never had to do the things they struggled with to simply get by. That is something most in my generation will never understand. My parents celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary and I was finally able to understand why they have been so successful in their relationship. They don’t keep anything back. Although their methods of communication are loud and boisterous at times, it works for them. Couples that hold things in and don’t deal with conflict are the ones that never last. I see my parents love for each other when they overcome their individual differences and learn to compensate or avoid certain topics all together. No relationship is perfect, life always throws curve balls that we don’t expect. But those who choose to grow together are the ones that stay together.

I am happy to say that I finally feel comfortable at home in San Diego! Although the transition was tough, I will be staying with my parents until the end of graduate school in December. Their love and support is what I need to finish off school while working in ESL classes during the semester. My dreams are finally coming true. With several job opportunities upon graduation, my professional career as a ESL instructor is just beginning. This summer I will get my first peek into university teaching at the Japanese Women’s University in Tokyo where I will be teaching for 3 months. Upon returning home I will be a teacher’s assistant in a well-known community college as well as a writing center instructor at another community college in San Diego. This experience will help boost me into the programs so that I can hopefully become a part time adjunct at any community college in California.

Everything is happening so fast. In 1 week I am leaving for Japan. When I return, I will have my Master’s degree within 4 months. There is no place in the world that I would rather be than spending the summer with my love in Los Angeles. But sometimes we can’t always get what we want out of life. We have to take what we can get and go with it. Accepting uncertainty in our lives is something that every human needs to embrace. But I do strongly feel that if you are riding the journey alone, you will always be searching for love. So if you have it right now, cherish it and don’t let life’s surprises affect your relationship. In Korea I had it all, a good job, friends, the best boyfriend in the world, distance from my loud crazy Italian family, money, opportunities for travel, love, and support. As I begin this journey to Japan, I have few of those things and I expect to feel lonely this time around because of that. I know it’s going to be a tough reality in my 1 bedroom apartment as I am heartbroken and I won’t have my daily Skype calls to my man. Many sleepless and tearful nights await, but that is just the process of trying to mend a broken heart. But the positive things are that I will be able to advance my career and be on my own again for a while without any obligations to friends or family.

I will definitely be spending some time in Korea as soon as I am back on Asian soil. My blogging about Korea will never cease as my passion for the country is eternal. I hope many others have wonderful experiences in the country that brought me one of the best years of my life. As far as my acculturation process goes who knows. I think for the rest of my life I will be stuck in a state of marginalization, never fully accepting American culture or Korean culture. Korea changed who I am. I no longer identify fully with American culture. Bi-culturalism has become a part of my identity of which I am proud.

If you have any questions or comments about “Was it the reverse culture shock or moving back in with my parents” please leave them in the comment box below or email goneseoulsearching AT gmail DOT com.

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