All bubbles eventually burst.

5:16 AM Jessica Montgomery 0 Comments

I am so fresh in soul and spirit that life gushes and bubbles around me in a thousand springs.
Robert Schumann



My fellow expat friends keep posting these articles on Facebook that give insight into 'Expat Life' and I can't help but comment on them. They're pretty great and they can give you an encouraging nudge on your chin when homesickness rears its angry head. Sometimes you need to read a couple witty blurbs to remind you, "Ah yes, I'm not alone in this nonsense."

The most recent article brought to my attention talks about the "The Expat Bubble": The Expat Bubble: Things I Now View As Normal that Probably Aren't 
I've touched on this subject before and to see someone else write about it makes me feel more sane. I'm sure my friends and family back home have already realized that I'm different. Socially, emotionally, my confidence is a little bit higher, I'm taking more (what I would used to call) risks, I'm more independent, etc. Coming to Korea has easily been one the best decisions I have ever made in my 25 years of life. (That, and that one time in 4th grade I guessed the number 72 out of 100 and won a green folder from Mr. Sturgell's "prize-box". Hell yeah.) But in all seriousness; it has been. I've adapted to life here in ways that I never thought I'd have to. My patience has grown. For as much as I do jump head first into things now, I flirt a fine line with considering more variables before doing so. Not because I'm nervous, but because I fear settling. I now seek out the best for myself. I've been thrust into a world where the options have now become psychologically obtainable.

So. Yes. I have changed. And many of the attributes that I have picked up while living abroad I hope to carry with me back to The States, or The 'Western World', -or wherever I end up! A friend of mine said a while back that he hopes to keep "the zeal". I loved that, and I totally understood what he meant. But, there are some things that I will need to drop. Drop, well, drop like a bad habit. The article mentioned above compiles a nice list of differences between expat life and, what my close friends and I have coined as, "Real Life". Let's see if I can compile my own...


Hard Shell:
For the umpteenth time: I've opened up to people here like I never have before. I've mentioned before that I've noticed while living abroad, relationships are formed quick and vulnerability is thrown out the window. We are extremely open with each other. I know things about some of my friends here, whom I've only known one year, that I've yet to learn about friends back home that I've known for ten. Emotions are amplified, communities are tight and concentrated, and a family is formed that is relatively alienated from the majority of the country. We all have at least one thing in common and that's what brought us here. We are open individuals (Which is a new thing for me.), and that's quite refreshing. -This is something that I would like to keep with me in my return to The West. But, a polar opposite consequence of this new-found openness of mine is that I've also obtained a little bit of a "hard shell". That's an oxymoron right? Well, let me explain. With this openness I've also gained assertion. My assertion stems from the fact that I'm, at heart, a push-over. But living in a different country, a different culture, and for the first time living on my own, being a push-over wasn't going to cut it. Still sounds ok, right? Well, it can be but I feel like this new found protectiveness can be a little difficult to control. What should I brush off and what should I take to heart? I'm still juggling with two cultures and my own upbringing in my mind. Difficult to explain I guess...

Privacy and Personal Space:
My co-workers know everything about me. Just now, two of them were discussing my pay raise and when the bank was going to deposit my bonus into my account. But trust comes easy here. Koreans are exceptionally honest people and I'm getting very used to my passport number and bank account information flying around like yesterdays junk mail. This obviously needs to stop once I'm State-side.
Another thing that has become natural to everyday life here is lack of personal space. I barely notice it anymore actually. I'd say...at least 8 times a day I'm pushed, prodded, or nudged aside from an elderly person in a store or subway. That's just how it is here. That's where the hard shell comes in. I've now learned that when standing in line if you're next up, that doesn't necessarily mean you're the next person to get served. You still need to fight for it. Elbows out.
I'm going to have to remember to say 'Pardon me.' if I bump into someone back home... "I'm not a bitch! I just lived in Korea for two years!"
I Don't Know:
I'm proud to say that one of my best friends back home has just secured a "real job" post-expat life. Ya know, a real job. Now, I'm not saying that all jobs here are apple pies and fruit cakes. But. Let's be honest. We have it pretty good here. If we make an honest mistake, miss a meeting, or whatever, more than likely we will be less than reprimanded. Some rules don't apply to us and because of cultural or language differences we get a pass for "not knowing". More responsibility heading my way State-side for sure...

That took you...HOW LONG??:
Language barriers, transportation woes, and that "not knowing" I mentioned above makes simple tasks difficult sometimes. Things are different here and can attribute to a lot of time "figuring things out". Sure, that's some of the fun; figuring things out, but you think wrestling on the phone with Comcast is bad? Well, try the exact same thing without speaking the same language. That's where patience comes in. It's a good rule of thumb that simple tasks, like mailing a letter for the first time, might take you twice the amount of time that it would back home. If you think it'll take 20 minutes to do something, better schedule it for 40 -just in case!

Technology Addict:
My introvertedness has reached epic proportions here in Korea. I've never spent so much time with technology in my life. I used to be anti-social networks (no pun intended), I used to be anti-texting, I used to be anti-smart phones. Now. I can't live without these damn things! What has happened to me? Sure, Facebook is great because it keeps me connected to all the goings-on State-side. But, I feel like I'm a little too dependent on it. Korea is also the first place that I've ever had a smart phone. It's going to be difficult letting go of this luxury, but I feel like I should ween myself off once I leave Korea. I don't need it. No one "needs" it. But for some reason, I'm sucked in! Korea is OBSESSED with smart phones. I've never seen anything like it. Looking down the subway car on my way to work 98% of people are hunched over, holding up tiny little screens to their glazed over eyes.

Classroom = Zoo:
Prior to coming to Korea I taught as a substitute teacher for a while. As a sub, you get to see the worst side of a class. It's a party when the teacher is away. Of course I can't blame them; we've all been there. But I thought being a sub would prepare me to handle a wild classroom. I was wrong. My classrooms reach decibels unlike any I've ever encountered. It's commonplace for a student to yell at the top of his or her lungs when you are talking and it's okay if a student throws a chair against a wall. Discipline is different here and I've come to terms with the fact that I have no power. Sending a kid down to the Principal's office doesn't happen here and calling the parents is relatively unheard of.
-Another thing that hinders discipline is that teachers do not know all of the student's names. -Or other teacher's names for that matter! Collectivism VS Individualism I guess?

Carb-Overload:
My diet has changed drastically since coming to Korea. Back home I was a lean, mean, fighting machine. In Korea, I'm a poofy, carb-devouring fiend. I never ate rice or bread or deep fried things back home. I was on a pretty strict low-calorie, vegetarian diet. And I felt great. I almost had abs! Seriously. So what happened? My lifestyle has changed, I eat in groups rather than alone so my options have changed drastically, I want to try new things and devour those that remind me of back home. And, when attempting to make vegetarian choices, I often find myself munching down on rice or fried potatoes. Ordering a salad while out is nearly impossible.
Counting calories here is impossible as well. Between school lunches and questionable nutrition facts, it's hard to add it all up. But, I'm trying to get back to my old ways and merge my Korea-life with the habits of home.

Public Consumption of Alcohol:
Wait, you mean I CAN'T walk down the street with an open beer anymore?
Yep. This one will definitely take some getting used to. Korea is a drinking culture and drinking in public is one of it's staples. Once 7:30pm hits the side streets outside of my apartment building are littered with not only beer cans but the businessmen who drank them; swaying back and forth holding each other's hands on the sidewalk.

My "new normal" is far different than my life back home. It's amazing how quick a person can adapt to new surroundings. I'm just curious how long it will take for me to switch back to my "cultural norms". I wonder how long it will take for Korea to just feel like a dream? My Oz.

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