Settling in to life in America (reverse culture shock)

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In some ways, life in America is like our life in South Korea. Tim goes to work during the day. Clarissa and I are home with Mittens. Homeschool is back in session. We think we found a church to attend. Tim’s days off are for exploring. We are still a one car family.

But in some ways, life is very different. Sometimes I think the transition from America to Korea was easier than the transition from Korea to America. I wonder if it’s because of the differences or if it’s because we were looking forward to moving to Korea for so long that it made things easier?

Before moving to Alexandria, I had only ever lived in Hampton Roads or South Korea. In Korea, most families are only there one to three years. So everyone is either new, or remembers what it is like to be new and attempts to help new people. We don’t live near military housing here, so there isn’t an influx of new people all the time that need to get plugged in (at least not the way it was in Korea). So when Clarissa and I go to a new place, people don’t seem eager to include us or invite us in to their group. The exception to this being our wonderful neighbors.

I consider Hampton Roads to be pretty conservative socially. It wasn’t quite southern with the large military population, but there were definitely likeminded people around. Before we left, the LGBT stuff wasn’t a big thing. Gay marriage wasn’t legal in most states before we left. Four years later, and in Northern Virginia, it is definitely more liberal. (Granted we arrived right at the beginning of Pride Month, so this may not be how things normally are?) But, Clarissa and I have had some interesting conversations about cashiers and why they are dressed like a girl but definitely look like a man or why we see men kissing each other at a restaurant.

I think it was also pretty common in Hampton Roads for moms to stay home with their kids, especially when they are younger. There were working moms too. My mom worked weekends when I was a kid. In my neighborhood, it seems pretty common for both parents to work though. When Clarissa and I go to the park, most of the kids her age have nannies from foreign countries. Or the moms that are there all have kids in private school uniforms and are hanging out together. I am having a hard time finding stay at home moms here. I am sure they exist. I just haven’t found them yet. When I looked online, it says that there were 91 elementary school aged kids in Alexandria who are homeschooled this school year. So these families do exist, but they aren’t a large percentage of the population.

The other thing that I am getting used to is having a car. We had one car in Korea, but Tim had it most of the time because he was working. Now when Clarissa asks if we can go somewhere that requires driving, it takes me a minute to remember that I am the one with the car and we don’t have to wait for Daddy to get home or for the weekend to go to the park or the library. It is also weird to be able to get the errands done during the week so that we can actually do fun things on the weekend.

The supply situation in South Korea was interesting on base. Many items from the commissary or PX came by boat, so if something was out, it might take a month to get it in. Then if there was an embargo on something, like poultry, you just had to go off base for the Korean version because the commissary just wan’t going to carry it. Amazon was the fastest way to ship things and it was great to get your item in a week, if you found a seller who would ship to an APO address. Here, I can go to multiple locations of the same store if I want to. But so far, most of the items that I want are in stock the day that I go shopping. Amazon is so fast. When we left, prime was definitely 2-3 days. But most things, if we order before midnight, will be delivered to our house the next day.

We have a great library system here. Because of our location, we are actually eligible for the library in a few different cities. In Korea, the army libraries were all connected on the same system, so I could request up to 5 books at a time from a different library. But because they were all in different cities on the peninsula, it might take 3-4 weeks to get the book I want. Here, the books are all located in the same city, so I can request multiple books from a different library, and it will be at the library that I want to pick it up in a day or two. We are also allowed to request like 20 books at a time!

The air quality here is amazing. In Korea, the air quality continually got worse while we were there. I don’t remember it being as much of a problem when we lived in Daegu. But in Pyeongtaek, especially the last year that we were there, the air quality was a problem. It would beĀ  over 200 for weeks straight (healthy is 0-50). We often had to wear a mask outside so that we wouldn’t get a headache or sore throat from the air. I think in the five weeks we have been in Virginia, the air quality has only been over 50 once and it was 68 that day. The air quality this morning was 4.

Clarissa’s personality has been a little more outgoing here than in South Korea. She said to me the other day, “I can be more chatty here because everyone speaks American!” She has no problem walking up to a kid on the playground and asking if they want to play with her. At lunch the other day, she even asked if we could sit with a little girl and her mom because they were about the same age. She never would have done that in Korea, even on base. She still doesn’t like big groups of people though. The first playground we went to, I thought looked really cool, but there were a ton of kids there and she asked to leave about ten minutes later in favor of a less crowded playground.