When I was living abroad I wasn’t sure what life would be like when I finished my contract and moved home. I planned to only live in South Korea for a year but ended up extending my contract and living in Busan for almost a year and a half. I knew there would be some reverse culture shock when I moved home but I was really surprised by what I experienced and wanted to share that! In fact, one way to help with reverse culture shock is by writing down and talking about your experiences!
When 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 Busan - a city I absolutely loved living in - I was very excited to go home and see family and friends that I hadn’t seen in almost 2 years!
Before returning home, Colin and I stopped in Hawaii for a week to relax, enjoy having some time off work, and try to re-acclimate to Western culture. 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! 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 - made for good background noise!). Not to mention we got to enjoy all the gorgeous sights and beautiful beaches that Hawaii has to offer.
I would highly recommend going on a vacation when your contract ends before you head home, whether you go to Hawaii, Southeast Asia, or somewhere else it’ll help you relax, unwind, and prepare you for the changes to come.
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 I wasn’t too sick, 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 while also being sick. I felt a little guilty trying to juggle time with family and friends and was very glad that we’d been on vacation in Hawaii - 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!)
Some great things about moving home are that I realized how easy and convenient it is 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 use those 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!)
One thing that was a hard thing for me to adjust to is 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 change 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 and I’m definitely excited to write back! It’s nice to hear from them and know that they are doing well.
(See below - an adorable letter from one of my past students)
Moving abroad has changed my perspective on many 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/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. Moving home 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 here. 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!