As I leaned my heavy head on the glass window, the dry and weathered countryside streaming past, the effects of the extra strong IPA, two days of travel, and jet lag pressed down upon my eyelids with urgency while I struggled to keep them lifted. I was home.
As my dad drove us through the rolling hills of northern California, I stared out the window at all the familiar sights. After a year away, shouldn’t this feel different? I felt like I should be seeing everything with new eyes, like I should be reveling in what a changed person I was amongst my old surroundings. But, instead, I felt as if I’d never left. My life in Korea suddenly seemed like a strange blip in the radar–more like a realistic dream than anything I’d physically experienced.
Being home didn’t feel out of the ordinary; it felt normal, comfortable, easy. Then it occurred to me that that is what made being home different: life was suddenly so easy! I had forgotten what it felt like to be able to ask a simple question without playing a game of charades, or to go to a restaurant and know exactly what everything on the menu said. It was suddenly a novelty to be able to have a casual conversation with the person scanning my groceries, and at the ATM–my god!–people waited in lines and nobody shoved me out of their way!
As the weeks at home went by, little things caught my notice that I hadn’t expected. First? Toilet seat covers. I had forgotten all about them! And, for that matter, the guarantee of toilets and not a porcelain filled hole in the ground was actually a luxury. Another thing I relished was not always being the fattest person in a room. I know America has an obesity problem and I don’t condone it, but seeing so many varying shapes and sizes and curves was utterly refreshing. And boobs! Boobs everywhere! I’d grown so accustomed to the high collared shirts in Korea that the low cut tops everywhere actually caught me off guard. At first I found myself judging them, thinking how scandalous of her!, but then I remembered that the rules were different here and I probably wore the exact same thing a year ago.
One of my favorite aspects of being home was how polite and friendly everyone was. I know that many people in Korea are friendly and it’s simply the language barrier that prevents them from striking up a conversation with me, but it was so nice to have simple chats with strangers throughout my day. It felt good for someone to hold a door for me, and then for me to hold a door for another person and have that person say thank you. It was comforting to stand in line knowing I didn’t have to breathe down the neck of the person in front of me to fend off cutting adjummas.
Many expats talk about “reverse culture shock” and how so many things about being home suddenly bother them. They complain that they overhear the dumbest conversations and they realize just how stupid Americans are; I think there are stupid people everywhere, and it’s hilarious to at least be able to understand them. They say that our portions are too huge and no wonder America is so fat; but I love paying for one meal and knowing I’ll have leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
When I left America I was ready to get the hell out of there. I claimed to hate American culture and was convinced that our society is going down the drain. But living abroad for a year has given me a new appreciation for my home and made me realize that it’s not all bad. To be fair, the USA has a lot of problems, but what country is perfect? I suppose I do see my country with new eyes now, though not with the eyes I expected. I don’t know what the future holds or where I will spend my life living, but I do find myself proud to call my little corner of America home.