Friday, August 22, 2014

There's no place like home.

Hello again!

It's been quite a while since I've written anything, but most of you already know that's because I spent the first half of this month at home.  It's hard to believe vacation has already come and gone, and even harder to believe that next week at this time I'll be working at my new schools.

As always, time goes by far too quickly and my time at home felt way too short.  Although I easily could have stayed at home longer, I'm glad that I at least got to enjoy a short time with my friends and family back in my home country.

My brain is a bit mushy from jetlag/the emotional overload from all of the impending changes within the next week, but I do want to note some of my observations about America before I totally readjust to Korea and forget them all.  With no further ado, here are some (very) random lingering thoughts from my time in America.

1.  America is really, really far away from Korea.
Ok, I know.  DUH, Sarah!   But over the past year counting back 13 hours when thinking about home has become second nature.  I guess somewhere along the line I got comfortable in Korea and forgot just what those 13 hours signify.  That is, until I had to make the crazy long journey home...and back again. Approximately 30 hours of travel later and Korea and America definitely felt far, far apart.

2. Bathrooms 
I guess I could have put this list in a different might be seriously questioning just how much damage jet lag has done to my brain considering I started off by stating the obvious and now I'm moving on to talk about bathrooms....but just let me explain.

Fellow Americans, have you ever wondered why we feel that it's necessary to leave such huge gaps in our public bathroom doors?  Do we really think it's necessary to have other people be able to watch us as we take care of our business?
American public bathrooms: gaps where the door meets the wall.  WHY?

Ok, realistically if you've never traveled there's a good chance you've never noticed.  However, after a year in Korea, it's something I noticed immediately. In Korea the bathroom doors don't leave any gaps at all and the doors are often much longer, which means that no one can catch a glimpse of you...taking care of your business.  I never even realized that this was something I loved about Korea until I was back in America using the airport restroom and feeling like the world could see me in the stall. Go figure.

Korea wins in overall public bathroom privacy, but America wins in a very different category.  What could it be?! I know you're dying to know.  Well, my friends America wins in the very important area of TOILET PAPER.

I know, I bet among all the reasons you're proud to be American you've never listed toilet paper among them. But here's the deal: in Korea you have to be careful about flushing toilet paper.  In many older establishments you shouldn't flush the TP because it will clog the drains.  In those cases, there is always a trash can in the stall in which you should put the used paper.  The "to flush or not to flush" debate has become such a common part of my life in Korea, that I found myself looking for the trash cans in American bathrooms.

Additionally, Korean bathrooms are notorious for not having TP at all, so you always have to make sure to have tissues with you when visiting a public restroom.  This is seldom an issue in America, which actually just makes everyday just a tad bit nicer.

3.  Not using both hands.
In Korea it's polite to use two hands when giving or receiving an item.  This could be giving money to a cashier or passing a paper to a coworker.  Unless you're good friends with someone, it's best to always use two hands. Although when I was a Korea-newbie this was something I kept beating myself up for forgetting, it has now become such a habit that when I didn't use two hands as I gave my money to the cashier I couldn't help but feel shame, as if I had been incredibly insulting.

4.  My bed in America is super, super comfortable.
Beds in Korea (and really throughout all of Asia) are really firm. Traditional Korean sleeping arrangements actually consist of sleeping on the floor, so a number of the motels I've stayed at this year don't have beds at all--just a room with blankets and pillows.  Again, this is just something that has become completely normal to me over the past year that I never even thought about how my bed in America would feel.

Well, to my wonderful surprise as soon as I got into bed after my 30+ hour trip home, I felt like I was sleeping on a CLOUD.  Each time I woke up I just kept thinking "OMG THIS BED IS SO COMFORTABLE!"

5.  Separate shower.
Wait, the whole bathroom doesn't need to get wet when you take a shower?  This was basically my thought as I took my first shower in America.  Lots of places in Korea have the sink-showers, but I've even been to some places that have showers with bathtubs but no shower curtains.  In Korea it's just perfectly normal to get the whole bathroom wet when you shower.

6.  Wicked!!!
Man, when I heard people using "wicked" I sure did feel at home. I've actually noticed that I never say this word anymore since it would probably confuse most people in Korea, but it sure did make me feel happy to hear it being used by my wonderful New England friends.

7.  No emoticons.
Ok, so I've already expressed my love of Kakao Talk's emoticons. Simply put: they're awesome. However, using normal text messages with my friends back home felt so strange without being able to use emoticons to depict my every emotion. When will America catch on to the greatness of Kakao?

8.  Architecture and the lack of neon lights in Boston.
While I was home I spent a day and a night in Boston.  While I've been to Boston tons and tons of times, this time I had a new appreciation for the architecture around the city.  Seoul has plenty of great things going for it, but architecture definitely isn't one of them.  Korea developed astoundingly quickly, and I think architecture was the casualty of this rapid development.  Perhaps this is why there are so many neon lights in Korea and why they're not needed in Boston....maybe it's all a way to compensate for the lack of architecture.

9.  Portion/drink sizes.
Yes, it's true.  American portions are crazy.  I think just about everything I ate/drink would have been meant to share if I had gotten it in Korea.

10.  Courteous drivers
One thing that makes me CRAZY about Korea is the insane driving.  When I first came to Korea I just thought it was dangerous and irresponsible, but I didn't have any real emotional reaction when I witnessed something crazy.  A year later and it actually makes me ridiculously mad when I see some of the downright stupid driving that happens all of the time in this country.  I was amazed when people actually STOPPED for me as I was walking/crossing the street in America.  In Korea pedestrians do not have the right of way, and in fact, even when the crosswalk is giving you the OK to cross the street, you still need to be careful because it by no means means that all drivers are actually going to wait for you....or check to see if you're there in the first place.

So, there you have it, 10 observations/thoughts from my time in America.  However, beyond these things I think what surprised me the most was how natural it felt to be back in America.  I fully expected to feel uncomfortable being back in the US, but the truth was it felt incredibly normal. I don't know...maybe I just adapt easily because I never experienced culture shock in Korea like everyone warned me I would.  Perhaps reverse culture shock would have hit if I had stayed longer, but mostly I just enjoyed being able to communicate with everyone, eating food, and shopping at Target.  Go America!

I should note as great as vacation was, the worst part of being home was having to leave...again.  I've mentioned before that the hardest thing I ever had to do was leaving my friends and family when I left for Korea one year ago.  Well, it turns out it wasn't much easier the second time around.  Yes, this time I know where I'm living, I have friends here, and I have an idea of what awaits me.  However, I also know about all of the tough parts of living in Korea.  I know about how isolating and lonely it can feel when you are always "the foreigner".  I know how much it sucks to miss holidays and how homesickness can strike at the most random and unexpected moments.  I know what it means to feel like you're missing out on important moments with people you love.  These are the things that filled my mind as I said goodbye for another year.
I know how quickly a year goes by.  However, I also know that a year is a really long time to be away from friends and family.

Oh! One last thing I should mention that really surprised me--I was really shocked to learn how many people have been following this blog.  Thanks to everyone for the wonderful support.  Now that I know how many people are actually reading I'm going to try to put in more effort into my writing (like you know, proofreading and editing?!).....that is, after this post.  This one is super rushed because it's already midnight, but I know with the combination of farewell events and starting at my new schools next week if I don't post now, I never will!


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