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.
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.
“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!
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
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?
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
“When are you gonna have children?”
Stephanie’s Prediction: 2
Ryan’s Prediction: 10
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.
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.