Even though I look out over a vast city every time I peer out the window, it hasn’t hit me yet.
Even though I use a different language, currency, and transportation method – it still hasn’t hit me yet.
It hasn’t hit me that I am in another country. That everything is completely and utterly new to me.
Either I’m still in that culture shock that people speak of or I’m adjusting so well that I really feel comfortable here.
I know one thing for sure. There is a humongous difference between visiting another country and actually packing up and moving to one. When you are just visiting, you can eat out every day and chum around with the locals enough to find your way. But when you move to another country you are very aware that these people are now your neighbors. You are living in their city, among their culture.
Immediately it becomes necessary to make sure you are leaving a respectful impression on the people you will see every day. You don’t want to offend or put off the lady at the market who you buy your produce from.
Quick story: There is an ajusshi that we think is the manager of one of the apartments in our neighborhood. He is always outside standing in the garage by our front door. When we started taking trash out, we would put it in front of the signs (trash or recycle) but he would come over and start talking to us in Korean. I don’t have any idea what he says to us yet but we bow and put the bags where he points to. Maybe he is just trying to help us – maybe he is very particular about where trash goes. We don’t know but he isn’t being rude and we want to make him our friend and not our enemy.
We are in full-immersion Korean culture class every day. Every time we step out the door, our brains are bombarded by spoken and written hangul, paying in won, and figuring out Korean customs.
But even though we are very obviously not “home” in America – it still hasn’t hit me.
I mean – come on brain!
Part of the problem might be that we have been so busy. I’m tired out every night around 9pm because of all the things we need to do before Jay goes back to work. I had to stock the house up with groceries, which involved three trips to the commissary (and three trips home in a taxi with all the goods). We had to get plastic plates and a space heater from the PX. There was paperwork to fill out and rent to be paid. All of that involves walking in the chilly winter air.
Another part might be that we have access to most of the amenities of home. We eat the local food as much as possible, but our kids are used to pb&j sandwiches and real cheese. We don’t have to go without those things (or pay high prices for them) and so we’ve been kind of cushioned from having to adjust to an entirely new cuisine and selection of foodstuffs.
This experience has taught me that it does pay to prepare beforehand to live in another country. It was handy to know a few Korean phrases like thank you, yes, and the traditional greeting. Koreans seem to respond well if you at least try to communicate in their language. It has also been very handy to know the hangul letters. I downloaded several apps for my tablet for the kids before we left Kansas. Each one teaches how to write or pronounce the Korean letters. I ended up playing them quite a bit along with the kids, and now I can sound out menu items, place signs, labels around the house, etc.
Knowing the exchange rate from dollars to won (roughly – as it changes daily) was useful. So was researching Google maps and knowing the layout of our area. I was able to find the church we wanted to try this afternoon with relative ease – the only snaffoo was finding out how to cross the train tracks.
So far we haven’t really had any big mishaps or tragic travel stories. Just another reason why it really hasn’t become reality to me yet.