Thursday, July 25, 2013

How shockingly unshocking.

When I came to South Korea I thought I was flying solo. No group, no built-in support network, no easy friends. It's probable that there has never been a more incorrect assumption in my entire life. Upon arrival, not only was I put into a group of fellow native speakers who would live in my area but it also turns out we all hit it off quite well (yay! for group 3). Thus a support network, a vast array of friendships, and a community was born.  So pretty much immediately my mentality was shifted from 'flying solo' to 'group,' which can make a huge difference. We've all been here for a little over 5 months now. Some of the friendships have grown stronger, some have dissipated; which is bound to happen in any group of 40 people. Overall they're amazing people and I cherish the time I have to get to know them. But in the last few weeks something odd has been happening....

Between three and five months in country something special starts to happen... the culture shock down-slope then bottom out. It's inevitable. When I was in Peace Corps Training they gave us this chart of emotions telling us how we would feel across the timeline of our service. We laughed. We made fun of it. We joked around about people thinking they could predict how we would feel not even knowing us. We were not predictable or chartable... or so we thought. Four or five months later and we all were bottoming out. Someone pulled out the emotions chart, in a fit of irony, and wouldn't you just know it: Month 5 to 6- Rock Bottom. (I've just gone ahead and posted the chart, because it's useful. Seriously useful.)

And now we are a little past month five in South Korea.

This time I knew it would come. A couple weeks ago it started happening. I'd be talking to someone and then the conversation would turn to how we were both having a tough time. The same conversation happened over and over again. Each person's difficulties were a little different, unique to them, but the feelings are the same every time. It is hard to separate a crappy work week, indifferent/mean/demanding colleagues, a lack of social options, a distaste for the food, bad weather, feeling homesick, missing important things back home... I could go on... from the ups and downs of culture shock. Sometimes we just feel like it's all jumbled together and we're not sure if we can take it. Usually at those times we give up, in a small way or in a big way.

There's nothing wrong with giving up. Sometimes it's part of accepting the new culture and moving on, "No, I won't do all your work for you, but I give up trying to explain why. Now I'll just do my own work and when you ask me to do yours I'll say, 'no.'"  Or in my case "Ok, Mr. OMT I give up getting mad at you. Now you can interrupt me, then shove something in my face and ask me a series of demanding personal questions, because the whole time in my head I'll be singing 'Then I threw it on the ground. I'm an adult' while I nod and smile at you." Not to get personal or anything. But sometimes giving up is so complete that there needs to be a clean break, and that's when people decide to go back. And that's ok too.

Honestly, the culture shock is not that bad for me. Having hit the culture shock rock bottom three separate times in the past ten years has helped ease its intensity and helped me understand it and cope with it better. Knowing it would come, that it was inevitable, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with it (or more importantly with me, for feeling this way) has helped me immensely. For me, just identifying that I'm in the throws of culture shock has helped.
Now I give myself a break every chance I get. Bingsu is this ice, fruit dessert and it's something I LOVE about Korea! The best break is an afternoon bingsu with a good book or a good friend. Taking time to sit down and reflect helps me remember all the things I like here, which are numerous. My goal is to keep perspective. That's it. 

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