Returning to America After Three Years Abroad (9 observations)

Going back anywhere after three years feels kind of weird. You think you know a place, but whether the locals notice or not, things change a lot in that time. Going back to your home country after that amount of time is stranger still.

A few days ago, I arrived in Southern California after being abroad for three consecutive years. Part of me feels home, but another part of me feels like I am visiting a foreign country. Sure, I have a lot of friends and family here, but truth be told, I feel a lot more comfortable in the streets of Seoul than in any part of the greater LA area. I always thought that it was the foreign factor of South Korea that appealed so much to me, but maybe now, the exact opposite is true.

I’ve only been here a few days, but there are already some observations I’ve made. Most of them are not really positive or negative, simply different or things I hadn’t noticed before that have given me a sense of mild reverse culture-shock:


1) Food Portions are Enormous

Starbucks - Return to America
Didn’t even know they made them this big.

It is not news to anyone that food portions are big in the US of A. However, I had forgotten just how big the margin was between America, and any of the other 13 countries I have visited (even Canada). I have bought a lot of meals consisting American/Mexican dishes that I missed the most, and almost a week into my return, I have yet to finish everything on my plate. If you have been following this blog, you’d know that not only do I love to eat, but wasting food is one of the things I hate the most.


2) Everything Else is Big Too

The enormity doesn’t stop at the dinner table. Cars are bigger (as are speed limits), shopping areas are enormous, houses are huge, and even streets and car lanes are extremely wide. The people are bigger too, but I won’t get into that one today. Today, I was dropped off at the shopping district nearest my mother’s suburban home and it took me about 40 minutes to walk straight home. We have a huge abundance of land in the US, which is something we should be grateful for I suppose. I just wish I didn’t have to walk that far for a burger!


3) There Really are Palm Trees… Everywhere

Palm Trees - Returning to America

No matter what culture tries to portray another culture, they always seem to get it wrong… like horrendously, terribly wrong. Any picture showing LA or Southern California (I don’t think Californians call is “Cali,” that’s just weird) always has a ridiculous amount of palm trees everywhere. Maybe because I grew up with them my whole life, I didn’t realize how they really are EVERYWHERE! Those super tall and disproportionately skinny trees are really strange if you think about it. They look like they are about to snap every time the mildest wind picks up which is why they don’t survive in more places… I wonder where palm trees grow in nature…

Okay back to the topic…


4) We’re Too Lazy to Walk

I think that the relative cheapness (or the need) of driving a car has made us too lazy to walk anywhere. I already showed my own laziness on #2 by complaining about my 40 minute walk, and I know plenty of people who are a lot worse. Even within the same shopping center, some people would drive from one end to  the other if it is too far. I can’t really speak as to whether this is for better or worse (probably worse), as I do like the convenience, but at the same time, I already feel my back aching from sitting in the car all day.


5) Traffic is so Orderly

Mustang - Return to America
My brother’s car.

There is probably no easier place to drive than in America… well maybe North Korea. But seriously, outside of the main cities, the streets are empty, most cars follow the rules, and everyone is given their space. There is no one hogging two lanes, merging uncontrollably, and very few people are continuously weaving to get to their destination a few seconds earlier. Besides the terrible traffic during peak hours, the US is a driving utopia.


6) Everything Else is also Orderly

House, house, house, but then... oh yeah, another house.
House, house, house, but then… oh yeah, another house.

Entertainment is in a certain district, so are bars, restaurants, and houses. Of course, I am writing from the view of living out in the suburbs, but it is a little frustrating (personally, I’m sure some people like it) that you can’t find those “hole in the wall” places by just taking a stroll. While it is possible to do this in the central city, I know that if I walk from this house in any direction, I will hit nothing but houses for 20 minutes.


7) Everyone is so Nice

One of the biggest criticisms I have read non-Americans say about us is that we are “too nice.” Out of all the possible insults, I’ll take it and agree. The  criticism goes that we say “thank you,” and smile so much that it is difficult to tell when we are being genuine. While some question our sincerity (a valid point given our tipping culture), I would say most people ARE just being nice. People hold the door (for men or women), they ask for ways to help in grocery stores, and are generally very pleasant, even when tips aren’t involved. This is not to say Koreans aren’t nice (because they definitely are), I just hadn’t noticed how nice people back home were until now.


8) Yo! Where’s the Bus… the Subway… Hell Even a Cab!?

In front of my place in Seoul, about 5 buses pass by every minute. I feel like I was spoiled.
In front of my place in Seoul, about 5 buses pass by every minute. I feel like I was spoiled.

One of the things I wanted to try when I got back home was to get by using public transportation. Sadly, this is one venture I think I am going to pass on. When looking up how to get to my friends house, who lives about 45 minutes away by car (Corona to Irvine, California), Google Maps quoted me at 8 buses costing 15 USD and taking 5 hours! I recently looked up going to the Getty Center with similar ridiculous results. Our public transportation system is broken and I would support any legislation to improve it. Okay enough with the rhetoric, I’ll stick to complaining like everyone else. Anyways, I knew it wasn’t great, but didn’t expect it to be THIS bad.


9) The Slang Takes Some Getting Used To

In Korea, there were many English-speaking foreigners who I conversed with on a regular basis. However, since we were from different parts of the US (or Canada in some cases), and there was sometimes an age gap, I feel slang was kept to a minimum. Coming back home, I’ve come across some slang I had either completely forgotten or is altogether new. Generally, I understood the meaning from context, but I never realized how much slang we use as Californians.


Has anyone else experienced this reverse culture shock after living abroad? Does the feeling ever go away? Did you annoy your friends by prefacing your sentences with “Well in (insert country name)…. “? Let me know about it in the comments!


Julio Moreno
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