I returned to North America on March 19th, 2022.
After spending two and a half years in Seoul – nearly entirely during covid times, I just missed home. Travel quarantine and restrictions had barred any travel I had planned to do as well as friends from coming to visit. I missed my family and friends, and the overall familiarity of what I had back in Minnesota.
After two weeks of happily futon-ing it in my parents’ basement with my dogs again, I jumped to Vancouver, British Columbia for a short visit to my girlfriend’s home as well. A few parties and a lot of new people later, I was excited to spend time with friends across MN.
I didn’t need a GPS my first time driving to my best friend’s house in St. Paul. I helped his family move shortly before leaving in 2019 and it I gave myself a pat on the back for not using Google Maps. That weekend, we blazed across Wisconsin to see our favorite band in Milwaukee. Dancing, yell-singing, and spilling some drinks will always be a memorable ritual for our friend group, something I dearly missed during my time in Korea.
A friend gave me a small yellow bullet journal as a welcome home gift. Honestly, I’m not into getting journals because I’m pretty picky about them. But he said he bullet journals a lot and this journal passed my standards of writing materials. He and another friend spent three years in Costa Rica through the Peace Corps and told me that if I needed someone to vent with about re-integrating, then to reach out.
I told him that “I was fine” and that “everything is chill” since I was just “hanging out and spending time with family and friends.”
I was really wrong, ha.
Maybe two weeks later I started to feel really off. People kept and continue asking me how Korea was, and I usually replied with one of two answers: 1) “It was really great! A wild and fun time, for sure.” which is what people expected to hear and were satisfied with. 2) “There was a lot of goods, a lot of bads. Sometimes really fun, sometimes really hard.” which I guess people don’t expect, assuming it was just a fun travel adventure. I don’t know, small talk continues to be trivial to me.
Overall, I found being back home hard for a lot of reasons. I wasn’t fitting a mold I felt I was expected to. I disconnected from 85% of the things and people I was attached to before. My partner and I were separated after seeing each other everyday for two years. Generally, my whole life changed. Schedule, city, sights, surroundings. Commonplaces, travel, language. I didn’t really fit here.
I’ve had friends who’ve spent time abroad tell me about breaking down over imported avocados at the grocery store, losing it over the sheer grocery-store-ness about going to buy food. A lot of grocery store related experiences, which testifies to the power of US trade and food life. Others describe driving as panic-inducing chaos, cities and neighborhoods being so spread out as a worse kind of isolating, or just crumpling over the general American lifestyle.
I’ve been hyperaware of the ego slowly taking root – the “big city guy in a small town” kind of attitude. Spending time with my parents helps me a lot with that. Having a more adult-to-adult relationship with them is nice, albeit beleaguered from living with them. Belonging somewhere in the middle of the humility and pride balance is something I am learning more about every step of the way.
I’m transitioning to Vancouver in this season, banking on permanent residency and a social working job sometime soon. I once again am in a limbo of career, not that I’m used to it or anything.
Cheers and more reflections on the way,