I finally returned home to the U.S. after being in South Korea for nearly a full year and it didn’t take long for me to seem out of place in what is supposed to be home. I became so used to daily life and culture in South Korea that I’m sometimes confused as to where home is. When I arrived at my house I was excited to see my dog Pooka and after picking her up I set her down and told her “Pooka, anja!” three or four times. She stood there wagging her tail and I was confused as to why she wouldn’t respond. Surely she couldn’t have forgotten how to sit while I was away! My brother looked at me and with a laugh said “Pooka didn’t study Korean while you were gone.” I was a bit shocked at myself for immediately trying to speak Korean to everyone when arriving home. I’ve spoken English my whole life and now I find myself speaking Korean without thinking and at times having difficulty coming up with the right words or expressions in English.
It has been about a week since I’ve returned and it’s a bit more difficult than I thought going back to speaking English full time while trying to continue learning Korean. The time difference when messaging friends in South Korea always plays a factor and I also realized how difficult it is to try and communicate daily like before because we aren’t able to meet or live in the same place. I find myself not able to drop the Korean cultural habit of a slight bow when greeting someone and also holding my elbow when handing over something such as money. My phone rings to a song by TWICE (Korean girl pop group) and often the reactions are similar to if my phone rang in a library! These things became so natural while doing it everyday in South Korea, however now I can only assume I look quite awkward or seem like a foreigner to others as I do these things in America.
While the food in South Korea was amazing, there are always times when I missed comfort foods from home. Things such as cakes and pastries, Chipotle, a good cheeseburger, or my mom’s homemade meals. I also missed being able to meet with my friends every weekend for dinner or being able to play games with them. Now that I am back to meeting with my friends in Colorado, I often miss meeting with my friends in South Korea and picking a random area of Seoul to explore. One thing I found myself continuously complaining about is public transportation and how far things are from home. In South Korea the subway system was amazing and convenient, as you are able to get to any destination quite easily. I suppose I became a bit spoiled having a subway station always within a 5-10 minute walk and any type of food within walking distance as well. Now that I’m back in America, I am back to driving at least 30 minutes to anywhere I want to go.
Some other differences I’ve noticed are how things like buildings are built. South Korea stacks 4-8 shops and restaurants in a single building while in America things are built outwards. In South Korea, things are very close in proximity which made it seem easier to get a bit of exercise and stay fit, while at home driving everywhere makes one become a bit lazy and drive-thru restaurants do not help at all! A final difference I noticed is in the meals. Here in America, there are certain foods usually eaten for each meal. For example, a typical American style breakfast consisting of pancakes, eggs, cereal, etc. was difficult to find in South Korea. In South Korea, I usually ate anything I wanted and breakfast often was kimbap (rice rolled with vegetables or meat, similar to sushi) or just fruits.
Now that I am back in America and thinking about my future, I realize just how much I miss and enjoyed my time in East Asia. My lifestyle and goals are different now than they were prior to studying abroad. I plan to finish my degree and continue learning Korean and Japanese. Once I obtain my Bachelor’s degree, I hope to return to Asia and teach English, as I have found a love for teaching. Perhaps in the future if my language abilities have improved to a high level, I can teach Korean or Japanese at schools or programs in America! Studying abroad for one year allowed me to not only learn about other cultures around the world but also learn more about myself and what I am capable of. Just a few years ago I would never have imagined I would go to South Korea for a year, play soccer for a foreign university, and learn Korean and Japanese, all while finding a passion for teaching. My year of studying abroad in South Korea has come to an end but I have so many great memories to keep with me forever. Thank you, Gilman Scholarship, for giving me this opportunity!