If you’re considering living in another country, here’s what people will say before you leave: You’ll have experiences that you’ll carry with you. You’ll learn to see differences in cultures. You’ll benefit in ways that you won’t expect. And they’re right. It will change you.– Excerpt ‘I lived in Korea for 5 years…‘ taken from B. Schaneman from THE WEEK
In my case I believe that I’ve always been in a culturally adapting home environment
my entire life. Growing up in a household where English/French/Haitian-Creole was spoken actually led to a brief period when I didn’t know what mother tongue to select according to mother. In the end, English won since English was the language of my pre-k school class and the everyday language spoken outside of home.
After reading Schaneman’s article from THE WEEK I started to reflect on some life changes I have accepted since I have returned home. I can’t say if Schaneman ever went home during his five years abroad but I can say that I went home four times during my 3 years abroad. Each and every time I felt like nothing really changed on the surface level. My house, my dog, my family, my close friends, and even my old life seemed frozen in time. Upon each return I felt like I was jumping back into a life I had put on pause. However, with every trip I did notice that things were steadily changing and so was I.
My parents were getting older, my sister was married and already starting a family, my dog became a senior pup, and my old JCC crew friends were no longer in touch with one another. Things were changing, but not on the surface level. On the surface level during my trips my parents tried to downplay their frequent doctor visits, my sister downplayed her separate family life and wanted sisterly-bonding time, my dog was eagerly playful for me, and my JCC friends all contacted me. But, it was just a cover that once removed brought to light more changes then I knew. Not only was my old life different by the new changes going on at home, but I was changing too.
With every trip back home I tried to stay connected to my life in Korea. I stayed in touch with my Korea based friends and even news going on in the land of morning calm. I also started speaking random Korean phrase expressions at home, visiting Korean supermarkets, and still eating Korean based food. While my family did not think too much of it I did. I felt culturally changed. I felt changed by my newly adopted customs, tastes, and preferences. So much so that I felt like speaking Korean at home, eating Korean food, and visiting the nearest Korean-owned supermarket called H-Mart helped reassure me of my ties to my second home Korea.
As mentioned in my blog My Taegukgi (태극기) I view Korea as my second home. This remains true for all former Korea expats like Schaneman or myself who have returned to their hometowns and felt somewhat out of place. The newfound awareness of life changes is most apparent when we are removed from our adopted environments for extended periods or return to a old environment(i.e. our home country). Some expats as Schaneman writes return back to Korea or move to a new country because they no longer feel comfortable in their own home country/ start to suffer from culture shock upon returning home. I believe that for these expats the life changes that they notice in their old environment, as well as, the life changes that they experience in their abroad environment is immense, which I highlight in my blog Changing and Adapting Experiences (변경과적응 경험).
But, my case is different. For me, I took my time to re-adapt to my former environment, by accepting changes in my life that I started noticing during each trip back home. In addition, I tried maintaining as much of my new environment (i.e. my Korea life) at home. I guess you could say I was blending my two lives. This is not something all expats can do. As Schaneman noted he lives out in Nebraska; I live in New York. I imagine he’s from a family with local American roots; I am from a family with numerous diverse roots. He may not live in a populated area with diverse markets and people; I live in one on of the most densely populated suburbs outside of New York City. Due to these differences I was able to blend my old/new environments and accept the newfound life changes in my life.
Here at home I have learned to accept newfound changes in my life, by maintaining daily activities of my Korea life and daily activities of my former life. I have learned to blend the two. This remains true in terms of my social circles (here and abroad), my food preferences(Korean or American), my language usage(practicing Korean alone or w/ fellow Koreans I meet in NY). In blending significant parts of my Korea life I have accepted & welcomed a fusion life. I thank my diverse family for being an encouraging focal point for me throughout my transition and return home.
Coming from a culturally adapting home environment
has been a major benefactor for me throughout all of the life changes that I have personally experienced. Just as I have transitioned out of one environment and into another my family had gone through the same experience themselves when they moved the U.S. Feeling accepted and supported in my continual transitions I feel comfortable maintaining integrated parts of my life in Korea alongside my newly defined life back home.
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