Today is Easter Sunday – April 8th, 2012.
I have been home from my travels for 17 days.
Let me tell you a bit about what it is like returning home after spending so much time in other cultures. Naturally, I will do this through plenty of analogies and anecdotes. I’ll start with an anecdote.
When I first got home I was still a little amazed by my ability to just talk to any old person I wanted. As I mentioned a few times over the last year, living in Korea was a little like becoming a toddler again. Suddenly I can’t read or write, I can’t speak or listen and I don’t know how to behave or use simple tools. So after adapting to these limitations and living with them for a year I find myself at home and suddenly I can comunicate again! It was a great feeling. One of my first days home in Ottawa I went for a walk down to the Rideau Center (a mall where I used to work and shop quite often). As I explored my old favorite stores I found myself striking up conversations with the clerks! I’d be like, ‘Hey there, I was wondering if you had such and such awesome video game?’ And they’d be like, ‘We sure do.’ And I’d be like, ‘Have you tried it? I heard it was pretty good. Such and such an aspect of it is supposed to be really entertaining.’ And they’d be like, ‘Oh yeah, it is so awesome!’ Throughout this whole exchange I would have this big grin on my face, because it was so awesome just being able to chat with a stranger in a store about my purchase.
Later I got my hair cut and found myself chatting away with the hair dresser at Magicuts – something that is very rare for me as usually I just glare at them disapprovingly and silently judge their hair cutting technique.
There are other things I’ve had to get used to as well, but they are all pretty insignificant. For example, I had forgotten how spacious grocery stores can be. I also found I was amazed at how fresh the fruits and vegetables are. I also totally forgot how utterly insane people are. Maybe they have always been crazy and I just couldn’t understand what they were saying in the countries I have been to. Or maybe it is just that I’ve been in Ottawa and Peterborough which, between the two of them, must contain more crazies per capita than any other industrialized (or, hell, even third world) country.
The most surprising thing about coming home though, is how quickly everything has gone back to normal. I can’t believe how fast I have fallen back into my old routines, how quickly the novelty of it all has worn off. When I went to Korea I was thrown into a huge culture shock situation. I was in the honeymoon stage for months. Months of everything being awesome and unique. I would notice even the smallest details and remark upon the differences between it and Canada. I’ve heard all about reverse culture shock and people saying how weird it feels to go back home – so I guess I was kind of expecting something similar to moving to Korea when I returned home. It really isn’t the case.
Let me hit you with a few analogies to illustrate my point. I feel like coming home after a year abroad is a bit like driving into a brick wall. Only instead of a speeding vehicle you have my life for the last year and instead of a brick wall you have normalcy. It’s like all the crazyness and newness and awesomness has come to a screeching halt, and I am back to normal very, very suddenly.
Here’s another (I think slightly better) analogy: Going to Korea (Ie. culture shock) was like jumping into a hot tub. At first it feels great. It’s all warm and nice and you are having a great time. Then, after a while, you start to overheat. All that warmness and niceness is now making you sweat and it is a little hard to breath (I am referring to the ‘rejection’ phase of culture shock, which I definitely went through). But, finally, if you stay in the hot tub and don’t get out your body will adjust and then your breathing gets easier and the hot tub just becomes normal. This is how I felt at the end of my year in Korea. I was used to it. It was all normal, all run of the mill – just regular life for me.
By comparison reverse culture shock – coming home after so long abroad – is like jumping suddenly into cold water. It’s a big shock, your body is thrown for a loop and you are like; ‘Ahhhh! Get me out! Get me out!’ But as anyone who has ever jumped into a pool or a lake knows: even though it is cold at first you get used to it very quickly. Then before you know it you are swimming around normally, having a grand old time. That is what coming home was like for me. A quick little ‘Ahhhhhh! Everything is so crazy!’ Followed by settling back into the temperature, so to speak, of normal life.
Man, I am SO good at analogies.
So things in Canada are proceeding normally. I have been fulfilling each of the cravings I have had for the last year one at a time. Eating a box and a half of Kraft Dinner was heaven on earth. Drinking a crisp, cold Molson Canadian is just like I remember it (that is to say, a little disappointing). Playing hours and hours of Playstation has never been better (seriously – going 13 months without Playstation was one of the hardest things about living in Korea – right up there with not seeing my family). I’ve started my new job (which is great!) and am gearing up for a summer of frisbee, rock climbing and Canadian exploits – camping, hiking, swimming in a lake, bonfires, cycling on bike paths – basically all of the things I really, really missed doing in Korea.
With all that said here is a short list of things from my travels:
The best things I did in Korea:
The sunrise hike to the top of Jangsan Mountain was by far one of the best experiences of my year, possibly my life.
The Boryeong Mud Festival is an absolutely awesome must experience event!
Gwangali Beach – beach combing, fireworks festivals, frisbee and just hanging out.
The DMZ. Probably one of the most interesting places on Earth. No visit to Korea would be complete without a visit here.
Starcraft tournaments. Watching professional video game players play against each other for thousands of dollars is a must see event, and not just for video game players – it is just super unique.
Jeju Island. If you get a chance, go. It’s too awesome to explain here, just go do it.
Night time SCUBA diving.
The things I would do differently:
Thankfully, there aren’t many. I would have gone to Thailand for longer. My life will not be complete until I have gone back to that country for a reasonable amount of time (at least one week).
Gone to a casino. This was on my list of things to do since nearly day one in Korea. I have never been to a casino before and there was one at Haeundae beach – maybe 25 minutes from my apartment. Gambling is illegal for Koreans so you have to show a foreign passport to get in. They even give you $20 in chips for your first visit. Now, I’ve never been to a casino, but I’m pretty sure I could have played that up to a few hundred in no time 😉 Somehow, sadly, I totally forgot about the casino and never made it out there.
Shark diving. There was an aquarium near Haeundae beach where you could go shark diving. I really, really wanted to go do this. I tried for months to get a group of people together to go with, but getting 5 people together at the same time who are also willing to pay $150 bucks is a challenge anywhere. I never made it for a swim and it is another thing that I failed to cross off my bucket list – for now.
After a year of living in Korea I’m pretty proud that those are really the only regrets I can think of. I tried really hard to make the absolute most of my time there and I, unmodestly, think I suceeded spectacularly.
My challenge now is to maintain that spirit of adventure and seeking new experiences for as long as I can now that I have returned home to expensive old real life.
That’s all for now, but stayed tuned for one final, farewell blog entry in a few days. Over the weekend I am going to be editing all my Europe video and posting those on my youtube.com account. I’ll write up a final send off blog and post the final link to those videos once they are all online. Please, shuffle back away from the edge of your seat if you can, because it will be a few days before they are up.