CONTRIBUTED BY AMY HICKERSON
Leaving Korea has been on my mind a lot lately. Not because I want to, but because we have to. Yes, it’s PCS season, and in just a few months, our three-year tour here will sadly come to an end. (I’m really trying to have the “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” attitude, but it is very hard!) With this being our second Korea tour, I know how difficult the move “back home” is going to be because we have done it before, and shockingly, it was not at all the easy peasy transition I was expecting!
Our last tour in Korea was 2007-2010, and as the PCS drew closer I started getting positively giddy; dreams of strolling through Target & Old Navy, eating at Chick-Fil-A, driving on wide roads to large parking spaces in even larger parking lots, etc filled my head and made me excited to go home. I had had a great time in Korea that tour, and hated to leave, but I’ll admit, when the time came I was ready to go (even though I was in tears as the plane was taking off).
We spent a week in Hawaii en route to Virginia (our next duty station), but since that was a vacation it didn’t really feel weird yet. It was exciting and fun, and still felt foreign. So I was thinking, OK, this is going to be our easiest move yet!
The first big shock was when we landed in Atlanta for a layover. I can clearly remember sitting in our terminal, developing a pounding headache that seemed to get worse and worse with every passing second. I was sitting there about to lose my mind, when I finally figured out what was happening to me. I could hear, and UNDERSTAND, every word being spoken around me. No longer was I in a foreign country surrounded with language I couldn’t comprehend, therefore just tuning out; since I understood it, my brain was in overdrive trying to process it all.
It was the same way in stores, driving; in restaurants….everywhere there is spoken language or the written word. I could understand EVERYTHING. You don’t think you have gotten used to blocking so much out until you are exposed to everything in your own language again. I certainly hadn’t realized that at all. It was very overwhelming.
ONLY English on road signs? Weird!
The first time we went to a restaurant and I made my food order, I spoke slowly and followed up my order with, “Do you understand?” Which I then followed up with, “I’m sorry, we just moved from Korea and it’s a habit!” when the server gave me a dirty look for asking that!
The first time we took our son to Toys ‘R Us I thought his eyes would explode. So many choices!
The first time I went into a grocery store, I thought *my* eyes would explode. You get used to shopping in Korea, and while there is a massive amount of “stuff” in the markets here, it’s just different than going into the big box stores in the US.
I pictured myself shopping like this, but the truth is, the first few times I went into a store, I was pretty overwhelmed and didn’t stay long.
(Photo from Google Images)
Eventually we got used to life in the US again, but then the homesickness set in with a passion, and not a day went by that I didn’t have the itch to come back to Korea (or anywhere else for that matter). Living overseas changes you, and I didn’t realize that until we went “home.” Reverse culture shock is real. I know many people who have lived here and counted down the days until it was time to go home, only to realize that they missed very much about Korea.
We sooo missed being able to hop on a bus or train and get to a market, park, palace, etc fast for the day!
I’m not writing this to be a Debbie Downer about leaving Korea, just to share my experience and help people who are first timers at this overseas thing understand what may happen when they go back. It’s exciting, but also, it is going to be weird and complicated, and sometimes sad.
One of the very best explanations I have ever read on this topic is this blog article. It is so very true. I read it from time to time, because it is comforting to know that I am not alone in my feelings. It always makes me tear up, and it also makes me feel very proud to be a triangle raising a star. Read the article; you’ll get it.