Friday, September 2, 2011

They Call it Culture Shock

Is that what this is? Is that why I don’t like kimchi? Is that why I can’t use chopsticks? Is that why I can’t pronounce the Korean “eu” sound? Is that why no one tells me where my classes are? It is culture shock that forces me to smile anyway?  Is that why my hackles rise at the assumption that I will not be phased by an added Friday night class? Are the stares culture shock?

Are the stairs culture shock?

Is it culture shock when I show up to teach and none of my students arrive and I have to track down the English Department Secretary and weasel the reason for their absence out of her? Is it culture shock that saps my appetite and makes me long for a couch to nap on? Or is that homesickness? What’s the difference? Is there a difference?

Are the long bus routes culture shock? What about the mosquitoes bites riddling my legs, arms, hands and feet? Are they culture shock? Is the mouse that drops by occasionally culture shock? Is culture shock the boredom of 3-hour ceremonies? Is it culture shock that keeps me from screaming when my taxi careens up and down the mountain? Is it what makes me shy about wearing a two-piece at the beaches here?

Is culture shock why the creaky pipes wake me up? Is it why everyone here is beautiful? Is it why I’m losing weight? Or is that the stairs again? Are long hours and low pay culture shock? Or is that just another teacher perk? Is culture shock why I don’t have an office or a key to the building? Is it why my legs hurt when I curl up for Korean-style meals?

Is that what it is? Is that what these moments are about? These times when I picture a globe and realize I’m on the other half? Is it culture shock when I want a hug or a peanut butter sandwich?

Is it the burning ember in the back of my throat when I think about God and my family and knowing the rules?


  1. oh elaine... hang in there okay? thinking of you.

  2. I hate kimchi, too!! Also have been in other versions of those taxis. Bloody terrifying.