>  North America & Caribbean   >  Travelin’ Toronto: Friends and Food

It’s always a little discombobulating to return to the city of your last home, when you’ve made a new city, your current home.

A little confusing, right? For me, too. 😉

People like to throw around the term “reverse culture shock,” an awful lot these days, but that’s not really what I’m talking about. I’m super doubtful of 2 year expats that make such claims anyway. Really? You forgot a lifetime of social conditioning in 2 years away from home? Seems like a lot of sound and fury if you ask me…

After living in Seoul for 5 years, and adjusting to the cultural mores (which ARE very different from Canada’s), I, in fact, did not forget what it’s like to live in North America. I didn’t all of a sudden become so culturally Asian, that every social interaction felt foreign and bizarre to me. No, mostly, I slipped right back into my North American-ness without too much thought. Kinda like riding a bicycle…you never forget.

There were a few weird things though, that were, of course, more about a change in my own perception than anything else. I mean, was Toronto always so small, slow and spacious? My old ‘hood, St. Lawrence Market, which used to feel full of choices, felt like a tiny little district, with restaurants and cafes sparsely dotting the streets. I felt that I could easily walk the entire downtown in a leisurely afternoon stroll. Getting a latte at Starbucks entailed a 15 minute wait, and a lot of friendly chatter with the barista. Chatting with the barista in Seoul? It would never happen. Of course, they don’t expect a tip either. 😉

Obviously, Toronto hasn’t changed that much…it’s not that it suddenly shrunk into miniature while I was away. It’s just that Seoul is one of the world’s mega-cities, where an hour’s commute by subway is considered totally normal. Short even.

And while the pace of life in Toronto is considered ultra fast for Canada, it cannot come close to competing with Seoul’s hurry-hurry culture. It’s like comparing the tortoise with the hare.

Who’s the winner? I’m not entirely sure.

Cultural idiosyncrasies aside, there’s no doubt that the best part of any place, past or present, are the friends and family, that make the city, truly a home.

In the food department, Toronto’s got Seoul soundly beat. Korean food is completely amazing. As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the best cuisines in the world (yes, I’m biased). It’s just that you can have completely authentic Korean dishes like soondubu and dotsot bibimbap at the intersection of Bloor and Christie in Toronto’s Korea Town, but it’s a lot more difficult (and expensive) to get a satisfying steak in Korea.

Yes, Korea’s international food scene has improved exponentially over the last few years, and it’s now possible to dine on the food of multiple countries, but how can you truly compete with a city made up of more than 200 distinct ethnic groups in terms of authenticity. I’m pretty sure you can’t.

It’s something I definitely took full advantage of during my short 6 day stay in Toronto. It’s a wonder I didn’t return to Seoul, with 30 extra pounds on me.

Have you returned home after a long absence? Did you suffer from “reverse culture shock?” or was it just business as usual. Share your experiences below.


  • September 2, 2014
  • August 31, 2014

    I felt like I had some “reverse culture shock” when I got back to Texas after two months in South Africa. Everything just seemed so BIG! But I was definitely being dramatic 🙂 Glad you had such a lovely time in Toronto, I really want to visit it one day!

    • September 1, 2014

      Things ARE really big in Texas. What amazed me about Canada too was how much SPACE there was. It felt so deliciously uncrowded. Lol…if you wanna visit Toronto, you better go now. It’ll be much harder to get there from New Zealand!!! 😉

  • August 27, 2014

    Wow, that food looks amazing! One of the things I really liked about coming back home after travelling was that I really took notice of things. I think after a year of exploring and taking photos of all of the places I had visited, it really opened my eyes to how beautiful my own country was. I quickly slipped back into ‘normal’ life but that is one of the things I always try to remember not to take for granted now.

    • August 28, 2014

      Ohhh, it was so good! I really pigged out while I was in Canada. 🙂

      I also felt the same in Western Canada. It was just so amazingly beautiful in a way that I’d always kind of taken for granted before. I mean, when you grow up 1 hour away from the Rockies and Lake Louise, they sorta don’t have the same power as if you’d dreamt about seeing them your whole life (as many people do). Now I can go back and see it with new eyes. It’s a real gift of traveling the world – this ability to be newly present to experiences and places.

  • August 26, 2014

    Wow, some of that food looks great

  • August 25, 2014

    There are degrees of shock… but probably the term is a little dramatic. Your words “change in my own perception” ring true with me, though to suddenly here a strong Australian accent complete with some crude language, I can certainly be given a quick jolt! After 10 years of living overseas in various cultures, and returning to Australia regularly, the shock when returning has gone and I am now prepared to expect the differences. What sometimes still surprises me is that while I’m away, time, people and places do not stand still. I am often surprised by new places, and more so, prices when I visit home.

    (St Lawrence markets makes me think of amazing scallops like I’ve never had before. Mmmm.)

    • August 26, 2014

      I agree, there are definitely degrees with regards to culture shock, and for sure, some of us are more adaptable than others. I too, was totally shocked by the increase in prices in Toronto, and the relative lack of value compared to Asia. The size of people was also really shocking for me in North America – not in an obesity sense, but in a bones sense. Some Asian people’s bones are so small, I feel like they’d fall over if I blew hard enough – men AND women alike.

      Lol… St. Lawrence Market makes you think of scallops, but it makes me think of these amazing $5 filet mignons we used to buy and make at home. Oh and the pea meal bacon sandwiches!! Soooo delicious! 🙂

      • August 26, 2014

        x2 for the fillet mignons! Top notch food at those markets. Sorry to have missed those sandwiches.


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