I’ve mentioned that I went to the US last month and brought back my Winston. However, I haven’t yet shared about my experience while back in my home country.
In some ways, it felt as though I had never left the US. It wasn’t difficult to acclimate; I didn’t have major reverse-culture shock issues. I loved being back where I could converse with everyone I saw and everything was convenient, but there were a few things that made me pause. I had only been out of the states for a year, and I realized that very little had changed, except for me.
1. Fresh Air. I really feel that only people who have lived with the pollution that we have in Korea (or somewhere similar) can understand the beauty of fresh air and blue skies. I’ve put pictures on here; I’ve complained about it, but it’s different to experience it. I’ve “joked” about it with people here; living in Korea is most likely taking years off of my life. To be back in the US, and especially in the mountains, was like a full body cleanse. I would go outside to play fetch with Winston, take big breaths, and just marvel at how beautiful the world can be. I had been taking fresh air for granted my entire life; now I appreciate every clean breath I take.
2. Blending In. No one stared at me in the United States. I was just your ordinary white girl. I didn’t realize that I had become so accustomed to being a minority until I suddenly wasn’t. Not to sound vain, but it was strange to look up and realize that no one was openly watching me. No one asked me where I was from or why I was there. No one thought my blue eyes were an anomaly. Sales people didn’t stay two feet behind me the entire time I was in a store. Children didn’t point at me. I loved it.
3. Listening In. I flew from Seoul to Detroit and had a few hours before my flight to Tennessee. I was sitting at my gate and a guy (American) came up and started complaining to an airline employee. Really complaining. Yelling. Pacing. Cursing. Demanding. It was really intense. I put down my book and started openly watching the scene unfold. Many of the Americans around me kept their heads down and tried to ignore it. It was my first hour in America, and I soaked it in. I was absolutely delighted! I could understand him! I knew what he was saying! I understood the idioms, the curses, and the airline employee’s jargon! I was home! America! There was so much English around me, and I just took it in. I could read all the signs; I could order without complications; I could hear what those around me were saying!
However. I could hear what those around me were saying. I understood every cell phone conversation. I turned when someone sitting next to me said “hello” on their Bluetooth. I could understand the complaints people made about the weather/life/service. After my initial delight at being able to understand my countrymen (and women) abated, I realized that I really didn’t want to hear them. Even when I wasn’t trying to listen; bits of people’s conversation slip in. The buzz of Hangul in Korea has no effect on me; it’s mere background noise. In the states, I could overhear the minutia of everyone’s life, and I really wished that I couldn’t.
4. Speed. Most highways in Korea have a speed limit of 80 KM/H (about 50 MPH). Generally, I don’t get to drive that fast because of traffic. Koreans might have some crazy driving antics, but excessive speed isn’t really an issue. At first, driving on the the curvy roads of Tennessee or going over 50 felt a little strange. And then it felt awesome. I dropped Jared at the airport early one morning. On the drive back, I had an open highway and foggy mountains in the distance; a perfect morning drive.
5. Overwhelming Selection. I did some marathon shopping while I was in Tennessee. I had limited time, but I took advantage of the time that I had. One thing that hit me was how big all the stores are and how much merchandise there is. My Korean shopping is restricted to on post shopping or shopping on the economy. I always consider it a treat when we make our way to Osan and go to the Air Force base to shop- better selection and much cleaner. Shopping on the economy is always a bit of a guessing game in Korea. I love Emart and the Diaso, but sometimes it is really difficult to find exactly what you are looking for. The stores are generally small and only have a few options. However, I had forgotten how easy it is to find what you are looking for in the states. And once you find it, there are variations of size, color, and quantity. It was a little overwhelming. I have gotten used to choosing between only two brands, if I have a choice at all. Also, I greatly appreciated how everything was located in a single store. Instead of shopping at twenty different booths in Dongdaemun for basic wedding decor, my mom and I went to Party City and Target. Bam! Finished in two stores and we never had to fight for parking. God bless the USA.
My mom sent Jared and I to Kroger to buy trash bags. Jared was frustrated because I started panicking in the aisle. There must have been 75 different variations of trash bags. 13 gallon, tear resistant, drawstring, odor absorbing, black, white, “environmentally friendly.” There was just too much. It was something that I had never noticed before, but after being away the abundant selection seemed wasteful and extravagant. (I admit that this might be some weird trash-anger quirk with me. I previously wrote about my annoyance with Korean trash protocol.) I felt the same way at Old Navy about the rainbow selection of flip flops. Instead of seeing choices, I saw unnecessary materialism.
I know that it was not America that had changed in a year, but me. I don’t know if it is necessarily Korea that has changed me. Is it being another year older? Is it because of my travels to impoverished countries?
Please don’t think I’ve become some saintly shopper; I still bought an adorable black dress and some fun jewelry at Old Navy. Just no flip flops.
All in all, I was delighted to be back in the land of convenience. There is something comforting about being in your home country and knowing how to exist there. Apart from helping with and being part of a wedding, visiting with friends and family, marathon shopping, and getting ready to ship a pet internationally, life was a lot easier in the US. I think that means that life isn’t easy anywhere, right?!