Visiting Home After Living Abroad

After two years away, we finally made our way back to Oklahoma. In February we are given a substantial vacation period and we chose to spend this time with family and a few friends. Obviously this isn’t the kind of vacation we normally take, but we felt that it was time to spend a bit of time with relatives and re-evaluate America over a three week span. A drastic change of scenery and lifestyle for three weeks, we want to share some of our observations and thoughts on going “home” after several years away.


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Things We Enjoyed

  • Family, of course

It should go without saying that we enjoyed seeing and catching up with so many people, but I can say it again: seeing family and friends was great. It is a special thing to be able to laugh with old friends and hug relatives in person. We were able to spend a week with each of our three branches of family, and this meant unhurried interaction. While we didn’t get to see a few people we had hoped to, we were also overjoyed to have friends visit from out of state and spend some quality time.

  • Food!

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“Home cookin'” was at the top of our list for when we returned, but we also bathed in the ample opportunities to gorge ourselves on Mexican food, Southern BBQ, gravy-on-everything, and good pizza. We love the food we encounter traveling and living abroad, but chances to have real comfort food are few and far between. The food was terrific. Every family we visited put on a display of culinary art for our visit and when they were tired of cooking we got to revisit our favorite restaurants in spades. Queue the weight gain.

  • Shopping for tall people

Shopping was both exciting and surprising. Living in Asia, we aren’t likely to find many things that fit since we aren’t “Free Size.” Everywhere we went, it seemed, we found tons of different size options (wait, we aren’t abnormally large and oddly shaped?!). I tend to abhor shopping, but it was a tiny bit enjoyable to go shopping with new eyes. Stores are completely different than we’ve grown used to and I found myself walking aisles endlessly just to see what all was available. Thoughts of, “I don’t need a basket, I just came for a few things”, quickly turned into, “dammit, I shoulda grabbed a cart”, which turned into Stephanie dragging out of the meat section after exclaiming how amazingly huge all the sausage was.

  • Hello, clean air!

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Another aspect of our trip that was both welcome and mesmerizing was the air and sky of Oklahoma. That’s right, air quality. Have you ever had a look at Asia’s air quality index map? While the rest of the world is living in the green safe zone, Asia looks like a big red zone of air pollution death. The state of our births has a sprawling landscape and the air was clean and the sky was a beautiful blue. The sunsets took our breath away, like only an Oklahoma sunset can.


Things We Did Not Enjoy

  • American airports and airlines

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American airports, in our experience, are some of the most unwelcoming and rude places we’ve ever experienced. From the onset we are always rushed along with apparent contempt and distaste by the majority of the people we interact with. It’s fair to say, I think, that being berated for not knowing which white form of the four we were holding was the correct white form the angry man in Immigration needed after we were rushed through a Wal-Mart Self-Checkout-Style arrival sequence was NOT a good first encounter with our home country. His annoyed “Welcome home” wasn’t the heartwarming welcome we’d hoped for, but it is pretty par for the course in airport and airline hospitality.

  • Understanding every single conversation

On another note, hearing English from every direction is now annoying at best and stressful in the worst cases. In Korea we are blissfully tuned out of the conversations around us and we let the white noise of foreign language wash over us like a soothing machine. In America, however, we are bombarded with everyone’s conversations and petty squabbles. In Korea we immediately hear any and all English from in even the most crowded places- and this was simply sensory overload.

  • Um, what season is it?

Oklahoma tends to have the most random weather fluctuations. We packed the wrong clothes, thinking we would need to stay warm in February, but almost the entire time we were there, we were over dressed and sweating. Think 70 – 80 degree days. Also, allergies. My allergies were the worse they’d been since, well… the last time we were in Oklahoma.

  • What’s going on with my stomach?

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We enjoyed the food immensely, but it never failed that after every single meal our stomachs would turn and we would wind up feeling bloated and miserable for the next few hours. It was to the point where we’d be reminiscing about kimchi while eating at an amazing pulled pork BBQ place. What’s wrong with us?! Maybe it’s the vegetables that we were missing, or the fact that we’d gained 5-10 pounds each since arriving, but by the end of our trip we would have lengthy conversations with anyone who would listen about Korean food while scrolling through pictures of deliciousness on our phones.


Common Questions and Betting Lines

We knew going in to this vacation that there’d be some recurring inquiries about what we are doing and how long we’ll be doing it. Curiosity is an understandable consequence of having infrequent interaction with family members and we made a game of it. Stephanie and I had theories about the most common questions and their frequency, so a bet was made. The results can be found below.

“When are you moving home?”

Stephanie’s Prediction: 15

Ryan’s Prediction: 20

Actual: 15

“When are you gonna have children?”

Stephanie’s Prediction: 2

Ryan’s Prediction: 10

Actual: 3

While the metrics and data collection might have certainly been off in Stephanie’s favor, she probably did do slightly better than me in her estimates for these questions. The answer to the former question is at least one more year. We have re-signed our teaching contracts for another year and are looking forward to starting our forth year abroad. We can’t and won’t give a specific date to when we will be finished in Korea as nothing is set in stone. We LOVE living here and the benefits of teaching and living here are clear. As soon as we know, you’ll know. As for the latter question… well we’ll just let that one hang.


Bouts of Reverse Culture Shock

While we had expected things to be slightly uncomfortable back in America when coming from not-America, reverse culture shock still raised its ugly head. Stephanie certainly felt it worse than me. We were uncomfortable and felt foreign back home. Interactions with strangers and the occasional passerby were uncomfortable and felt intrusive. I’ve become so accustomed to anonymity that clerks at check-out counters and waitresses making small talk seemed wholly inappropriate. Discomfort was magnified by feeling a constant sense of danger. Although the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon might not sound like an ominous place, this was the setting of a panic attack at the sudden thought that “maybe I didn’t lock the car 5 minutes ago. People steal things in America!” Sometimes it’s hard to put into words how uncomfortable you now feel in a place that used to feel warm and fuzzy.


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Thoughts and realizations

I don’t want that last bit about culture shock and general feelings of unease to be a resounding conclusion for our entire time back in America because we actually had a really nice time. Being back in Oklahoma both completely was and absolutely wasn’t what we expected. The things that we miss and long for on a regular basis were still in the same spots we left them, mostly unchanged, and it was terrific to spend the amount of time we were afforded. Our family and friends all made so many attempts to make us comfortable and happy, and we are so very grateful.

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2017-03-06T09:21:05+00:00 By |Daily Life, Expat Life|14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Megan Indoe March 8, 2016 at 10:52 pm - Reply

    So much of this post resonates with us as we had similar experiences back at home! The food tore up our stomachs too, we just weren’t used to all those rich ingredients, but it didn’t’ stop us from chowing down and gaining those extra lbs back at home! We found the airlines to be so shitty compared to airlines in Asia, our flight from CA to OH was on Delta and the plane was a POS and there was no leg room. I didn’t realize how bad the domestic flights were until we left and came back. When we went home I was scared I had picked up some habits in Korea that people would hate back home, like pushing your way through places, walking in a nonsensical fashion, and just yelling for the waiter when you need them at a restaurant, luckily we seemed to snap right back into our home habits when we were there. One thing I did not enjoy about going back home would be TIPPING at restaurants, it seems so pointless once you live in a country that doesn’t have tipping. The restaurant should be paying livable wages, not the customers. Also, we did some damage shopping back at home because we are some tall folks too. So we feel ya there! After going in stores like Trader Joes and Target I wondered why I ever left America. Haha! Anyways it was fun reading this post, as well as seeing your common questions and betting lines! That made me laugh! I would have added how many times people asked you if you ate dog… maybe next time we go home people will finally stop asking that!

    • Hedgers Abroad March 9, 2016 at 3:02 pm - Reply

      How many times have you eaten dog OR have you eaten CAT?!

      Ummm… that’s China. We definitely had fun with the betting lines of the questions we knew we were going to get. Next time around we will have to add a few more 😉

      YES, number one complaint…you would think that a country with some pretty large people (both height and width) would have some airlines that had a biiiiit more room. Ryan had to fold into his chair and then tell the revolving door of students that kept trading seats in front of him to stop leaning the chair back into his knees. Then one of the flight attendants berated him for having two beers, which she herself gave him as service on a 13 hour long flight. How is air travel still so bad?!

  2. Celeste March 8, 2016 at 11:21 pm - Reply

    I am so sorry we missed seeing you and meeting Stephanie for the first time. In response to your post, home is where you make one. Sounds like S. Korea is the place, your home. But, I will remind you that we do have fresh veggies and the farmers market starts soon. Love you!
    Aunt Celeste

    • Hedgers Abroad March 9, 2016 at 2:34 pm - Reply

      Sorry we didn’t see you while we were in Shawnee! Seems like we always are pulled in so many directions with such a large family that someone inevitably gets left out in the short amount of time we have 🙁

  3. Wendy Flor March 8, 2016 at 11:33 pm - Reply

    This post is so interesting that I seem to have endless comments in my mind on your points up there… But the shopping for tall people cracked me up. You have the same issue with my son’s European teachers who always look forward to vacations for shopping back home. Your sunset is amazing. Korea has beautiful sunsets, too but Asia’s pollution is scary. Yellow dust from China has started coming last Saturday and everyone knows what that means! I feel you about Understanding every single conversation. I have lived long her in Korea and had managed to live by without understanding everything they say. It’s a blessing for me since I don’t have to entertain issues and nuances brought about by their words and gestures. And the feeling of safety! I’m so used to not zipping my bag here or simple leaving my bag around without much fear. If I lose something, i feel like i can rely on honesty and find my item in a lost and found section. This is a relatively safe country and i am comfortable living here.

    Welcome back?

    • Hedgers Abroad March 9, 2016 at 2:32 pm - Reply

      Thanks a bunch! We are always interested in how other expats feel after returning to their home country. It seems like we aren’t the only ones left feeling awkward while back at home. We definitely enjoyed our trip, but are certainly glad to be back in Korea!

  4. Molly March 9, 2016 at 12:39 am - Reply

    Enjoyed reading and really happy we got to spend a little time getting to know you both better. Hopefully there is more of that to come.
    Glad you both made it home safely.

    • Hedgers Abroad March 9, 2016 at 2:29 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Molly! It was great spending time with you and your family!

  5. Andrew Seal March 9, 2016 at 1:40 am - Reply

    Welcome home 🙂

    • Hedgers Abroad March 9, 2016 at 2:28 pm - Reply

      Thanks! We were there for three weeks and it was certainly nice to visit.

  6. Gina March 10, 2016 at 12:22 pm - Reply

    I totally felt the same way when I went back home as well. I loved being home and I definitely gained weight. I also loved shopping for all the clothes. Americans aren’t weird shaped. Asians are just small humans. 😉 I didn’t feel any reverse culture shock but I was annoyed with how entitled some Americans feel and how they complain about so much when in my travels, I’ve witnessed people that have so little.

  7. abcdeghizzy March 11, 2016 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    Hey Steph! Glad you could make it back home finally. So funny! The four things I looked forward to the most when going home was proper Mexican food, Southern BBQ, gravy-on-everything, and good pizza! I guess this is basically what you would call “American” cuisine then haha. My comfort food through-and-through! I can only imagine how hard it has been for you two living in Asia and trying to shop. Even being Asian myself, my height is comparable but my width is not 😛 The clothes are sooo tiny! It was nice going back home and feeling like I could actually fit into things. Its also interesting that you pointed out being able to understand everything as a downside. I’ve heard that criticism from a lot of friends actually who visited the US during their expat experiences. For me, I actually loved being able to understand all the conversations — it was very comforting to share a language again with others. I’m a huge eavesdropper too (I got big ears!) so being in Korea was a bit isolating at times not being able to understand what everyday things people were talking about.

  8. Matthew Collamer March 12, 2016 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    Extremely interesting post! It’s nice to hear an account from a fellow American about returning to the States. I’ve just started my journey abroad here in Korea, so I’m sure some of the topics you mentioned will resonate with me as time goes on. Keep up the fantastic work!

  9. ehevesy2014 March 14, 2016 at 10:38 am - Reply

    You nailed this post, I agree with everything you said! Even the order of things (+family, food, shopping for tall people / -Airports, conversations, stomach) is spot on with how I have felt nearly every time I’ve travelled back to the USA for a couple weeks. I’d also say both a plus and a minus is TV in the USA. Of course it’s nice to watch TV in English, but I’ve always found that it sucks up so much time and it’s far too easy to watch the 30 minute increments pass by. In the end, I think the positives outweigh the negative (quality time with family overcomes all), but going home is definitely up and down. Thanks for sharing!

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