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.