I’ve been back in Denmark for almost two weeks now, and I’m slowly, very slowly, starting to settle down here. While I’ve landed physically, I’m mentally still in Korea (who knows if that will ever change?), and I’ve been struggling more than expected in coping with returning to Denmark after two years in Korea.
My last few weeks in Korea were nothing short of wonderful and all my amazing friends over there gave me the best imaginable sendoff. The last days before my departure truly felt like a dream. I was done teaching for the summer, had plenty of time to just enjoy myself, even went on an impromptu trip to my beloved Busan, and otherwise spent my evenings gazing out on the Han River soaked in either beer, wine, or makgeolli and screaming K-pop tunes at a Korean noraebang (singing room). I realize this is obviously more vacation than everyday life in Seoul, but SHxx did I have fun!
Obviously, this made my repatriation a bit harder to swallow as I didn’t feel like going back at all. Ask my mom, who can testify to having had a bawling daughter on the phone 18 hours before departure. Me in tears on the phone: “I… *sob* don’t want to *sob*… leaveeeeee!”, to which my understanding mother smoothly replied: “You can always go back to Seoul, my dear. Just think to yourself that you’re going to Denmark on a long vacation”. That helped, and that’s what I am thinking now. I may be back in Denmark, but just for vacation. After all, I came here on a ticket that has a return flight to Seoul in December. If things go well, I’ll even go before. We’ll see what happens, more on that later. Trust me, I’m as curious as you guys to see what’s in store~
So seriously, how did I deal with moving back (note that I violently reject the term “moving home”) to Denmark? Worse than I’d care to admit. According to my patient husband, he was ready to send me back within a few hours of my arrival at our apartment. I was sleep-deprived, jet-lagged and frankly should not even have been allowed to interact with any human being in that state. I simply just couldn’t find any reason to be happy about being back at my old apartment. It felt oddly familiar and strange to me at the same time, and I was missing Seoul so much that it physically hurt. A good night’s sleep did lend some improvement to my misery, but it took me a full week to accept the new order of things.
I had read about reverse culture shock before coming back, but I didn’t expect to experience it this badly. There were so many Danish traits that I had simply just
suppressed forgotten about that hit me like a hammer the first few days. A few examples for your entertainment: Many Danish men look like Vikings (*ugh*) with long and wild unkempt hair and beards. (Different indeed from this Korean man who once told me that he only used 5(!) different skin care products in his routine – after all, he was not a girl, right?!) Women are smoking in the streets, by every bus stop and right outside any store entrance, children are noisy as Fxxx, and don’t even get me started on the sound of my regional dialect in the local mall.
I obviously realize that this rant makes me sound like the most pretentious snob to ever walk the face of the earth but this is in no way my intent. I am merely trying to give you a glimpse into my mind the first week of being back in a country that used to be my home for more than 30 years. I’m not saying that any of this is the true picture of Denmark (well the men are hairy, which I do not fancy, and people do smoke) but I also acknowledge that this is their right in a free and democratic country. I think I had this strong reaction because I couldn’t identify with anything here anymore. Sure, Seoul gave me some bruises but each one gave me new insight and wisdom, and I felt like I’d finally learned how to play by the rules when it was time for me to leave. It felt like I didn’t know the Danish rules anymore, and I could no longer feel any sense of belonging. Having lived two years among Koreans and starting to feel a sense of belonging there made me doubt that I had ever truly felt like I belonged in Denmark. After all, short of my husband and my immediate family and few closest friends, I had missed nothing in Denmark for two years. Licorice, rye bread, canned mackerel? Nope! Not at all. In Korea, I had kimchi, green tea flavored chocolate, and onion bagels, and life was just fine.
My first visit to the local Danish grocery market will forever be labeled in my mental experience archive as “do not open”. I had a complete meltdown in front of my poor husband in aisle 7 because I couldn’t find anything on my shopping list, people were loud around me and ridiculous jingles kept playing around me. I started hyperventilating and had to put on loud music in my headphones and communicate with my husband in improvised sign language just to get through it. Safely barricaded in my apartment I swore that I would never enter the premises of that place again. A promise kept to this day one week later. Talk about adaptation problems, haha.
It’s still weird to me that people don’t bow or follow the strict Korean etiquette that I had become so accustomed to. I realize that the loyal reader of my blog will be able to find several blog posts where I thoroughly trash talk said etiquette, but at least in Korea people know what the rules are and the majority abides by them. Without these rules, I now feel like I lack some structure for social interactions that can make me feel a bit awkward.
I’m doing better and better each day, partly because I know that each day that passes brings me closer to my beloved Korea. I’ve spent a large part of each day immersed in either Korean books, Korean text messages, Korean music or Korean tv series. I’m almost finished watching the new TVN series “What’s wrong with secretary Kim”. It is hands down the best drama series I’ve watched in a long time. I absolutely love the storyline, the humor, the hilarious repartees between the actors and, well, the actors themselves. I always liked Park Min Young, who’s easily one of the prettiest actresses in Korea, but now I also have a newfound appreciation for Park Seo Joon. He plays this the rich and self-centered CEO to perfection! The show is streaming for free on Viki.com now. I highly recommend it! Here’s a trailer to get you hooked.
If you’re curious as to my current taste in Korean music, here’s Zion T and “Eat”. Yes, I did scream this one in a karaoke room a few weeks ago, and no, there are no video recordings of that (I hope!).
Did any of you ever experience reverse culture shock? If so I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Do share!