When I was living abroad I wasn’t sure what life would be like when I finished my contract and moved home. The plan was to live in South Korea for a year, but I ended up extending my contract and living in Busan for almost two years. I knew there would be some reverse culture shock when I moved home but was really surprised by what life after Korea was like.
My boyfriend, Colin, and I packed up our apartment in Busan, had a goodbye party with all our friends, said some tearful goodbyes, and boarded the plane to leave Korea. It didn’t really dawn on me until the plane was in the air that I wouldn’t see those friends or live in Korea again for a long time, if ever. Although I was very sad to say goodbye to friends and to a city I absolutely loved living in. I was very excited to go home and see friends and family I hadn’t seen in almost 2 years!
Before returning home, Colin and I stopped in Hawaii for a week to relax and enjoy having some time off work. Honestly, taking a vacation in Hawaii was one of the best decisions we made! Although it was expensive, it was worth it and definitely helped with the reverse culture shock. It was nice to be in an English speaking country again, but still be on vacation. We got to go to restaurants, grocery stores, bars, gas stations, etc. and enjoy the simple pleasure of talking to people in English 24-7! We did feel a little overwhelmed hearing everyone else’s conversation (it was sort of nice not knowing what other people were saying in Korea sometimes). Not to mention we got to enjoy all the gorgeous sights and beautiful beaches that Hawaii has to offer.
REVERSE Culture Shock
Once we returned home reverse culture shock hit with full swing. Shortly after we got off the plane in St. Louis, I started having wheezing and a tight feeling in my chest – something that has never happened to me before. I had to go to urgent care and was abruptly reintroduced to American healthcare and how expensive it is – Korean healthcare was fast and extremely cheap (with or without insurance). Luckily it wasn’t serious. It turns out my body just was shocked from all the allergens that I was suddenly being exposed to!
It was great to see family and friends that I hadn’t seen in a long time, but also overwhelming trying to find time to see everyone. I felt a little guilty trying to juggle time with family and friends, and was very glad we’d been on vacation- because it really helped with the jet lag. Honestly if I could do it over again I’d say ask a friend or family member to host a “welcome-back” party for you when you return. That way you can see everyone at once, and won’t feel guilty if you need a few days to rest/recharge later on.
(See below – a friend from Cinncinati drove down to see me after we got home!)
Home Sweet Home
Some of the great things about life after Korea are that I realized how easy and convenient it was to do so many things in America. Signing up for a phone plan was pain free, and going car shopping wasn’t bad either. I’m big into rewards programs and coupons, and never really got to take advantage of that in Korea since I didn’t learn much Korean! I also really enjoy going to the gym, and gyms are much cheaper in the US.
(See below – a Friendsgiving party with some friends we hadn’t seen in a long time!)
Missing the Kids
One challenging part about life after Korea was the education culture in America, in Korea it’s very rigorous from an early age. Going from teaching Kindergarten in Korea to teaching Pre-School in America was a hard transition for me. Education culture for kids below 5 years old is much more laid back in America and focused on play and social skills. This was so different than what I experienced in Korea. I had a hard time adjusting at first but now I believe there is a happy medium between the two educational cultures. Kids should be able to play and have fun, but structure and high expectations aren’t a bad thing!
Speaking of education, some of my old students from Korea wrote me really wonderful letters which I’m incredibly thankful for. It’s nice to hear from them and know that they are doing well, and I’m definitely excited to write back!
(See below – an adorable letter from one of my past students.)
Life After Korea
Moving abroad has changed my perspective on a lot of things. I now have a tremendous amount of respect for immigrants and refugees because it isn’t easy to move to another country, especially when you can’t speak the language or have no family to help you. I’m passionate about helping those that are less fortunate, and can understand a small part of the struggle that immigrants face.
Moving abroad opened up many opportunities for me. I was able to save money, pay off all of my debt, and travel to four different countries! I am so thankful for all the amazing memories I have. Transitioning to life after Korea wasn’t easy, but now that I’m settled I’m very happy and love that I have so many stories to share with friends and family. I also can’t wait until I can see my friends from South Korea again!
Monica Russo graduated from Texas A&M University with a Bachelors in Psychology and is from St. Louis, Missouri. After spending a couple years in social work she decided to move abroad to learn more about other cultures and to challenge herself to live outside her comfort zone. Monica lived in Busan, South Korea for a year and a half and loved her time there. She loves new experiences, hiking, exploring other cities and helping others any way that she can. Her philosophy is work hard, play hard!