Hey, someone has been bullshitting me about this culture shock crap. I didn’t get any symptoms during or after my exchange. No wait! I got a bit irritated once. No wait again! I didn’t remember how to use my credit card here in Finland, and I still hand everything with both hands.
No need to describe me the phenomenon – I’ve been through it over and over again. Surprisingly enough, I got the biggest shock when I moved to my university town Jyväskylä, in my own country! Had I been a bit weaker specimen of my species, I would have needed medication. Have a Prozac and smile! I quite a shock with Canada too, after most of the exchange students I knew left after the first semester and the rest of us got tired with each other. I only stayed three weeks in Japan but got a shock worth mentioning – didn’t speak with my travel mate for a month. But no shock with Korea. Nothing.
This time I was pretty sure I would only stay there for 5 months, nothing was for forever, I had nothing to get excessively irritated over. And on the other hand, the life I came back to in Finland was good to begin with: friends, family, well paying job, summer. I know I can go back to Korea whenever I want to.
I must confess I took precautions to bypass the culture shock. The Japan experience was a great help. I knew my weaknesses and how to get over them.
Precaution number 1: Make sure you get enough food. - As I have been living with myself for good 27 years I know for sure the monster inside me wakes up when I’m hungry and tired. I knew Korea (like Japan) is and was a nightmare for a vegetarian, and I was a vegan. VEGAN! Nothing, nothing from animals I ate. I asked tips from other vegetarians in Korea (didn’t help that much) and for the first weeks I just tried to slowly accept the local cuisine. No heavy drinking, no heavy sightseeing, no “let’s experience everything new right now” attitude. Just chillin’. It paid off! I had to make compromises: trying to stay vegan without understanding Korean would have been too hard, and I also started eating food with meat broth or chunks of meat in - luckily I had carnivorous friends, who bravely suffered my share of meat.
Precaution number 2: make friends. Lotta was a great help – I’m slow and lazy to make friends so I just let Lotta do the filtering and collected the prize.
Precaution number 3: don’t stay too long. Two semesters in Canada was a bit too much. Three weeks backpacking in Japan was too much. One semester in Korea was just enough to leave me hungry for more. I didn’t have enough money to stay longer.
Precaution number 4: don’t expect. Don’t expect anything from the country or the people (yourself included). The experience is offered “as is”. Most of the ridiculous stuff can be explained logically when put in the cultural context. People in most cases are not better or worse than you, even if they act differently. You yourself are responsible for your mistakes or successes. If you expect too much, it’s your fault you get disappointed.
Precaution number 5: accept all the weird invitations. And here I don’t live as I preach. I didn’t go to the host bar, even though my friend kept asking me to go. Nor did I go to the Wedding Cafe. Maybe next time?
Maybe it hits later, the shock. But honestly, I’d like to think, patting myself to the back, that I’ve achieved the cosmopolitan attitude I’ve been striving for… or is it because I’m happy with (or full of) myself that I don’t need to stress over irrelevant stuff? I’m pretty sure the wanderlust hits me sooner than the culture shock.
PS. Yesterday I sent the final documents to my coordinator. Soon it’s officially over.