Monday, 28 November 2011

The Shire

"Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It'll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they'll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields... and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?" - Samwise Gamgee, The Return of the King

At orientation we were taught about something called ‘culture shock’. We were taught that culture shock comes in three stages. The first stage is the honeymoon period. What this means is that when you move to a new country, for the first few weeks or months that you are there, you bliss out. Everything seems fascinating to you, you are swept up in the new culture, you are overwhelmed by the new sounds and smells, you are enthralled by all of the new experiences you are having and life on the whole feels like one long holiday.

The second stage is the negotiation stage and I’m not sure why they called it that. Basically it means that after some time (usually around three months, depending on the person) the stark differences between the new culture and your home culture start becoming more apparent and begin to create anxiety. Everything about the new culture that during the honeymoon period you found exciting becomes irksome and annoying. Frustration and anger sets in, just hearing the language of the people in the new culture gives you goose bumps, you start to feel totally disconnected from society. After a few weeks of this; homesickness usually sets in and you start to truly miss those aspects of home which you took for granted whilst you were living there. You long for the familiarity which you are used to, and you would do almost anything to go home for a long weekend. That’s what I understood of the negotiation phase.

The third stage was called adjustment. This is when stage one and stage two, sync up. This usually comes at about six months when one has grown used to living in the new culture and it starts becoming familiar. You get into a routine and become concerned with basic living again rather than longing for things which you can’t have.

They say this is also true of returning home. When you first get home after being away for an extended period of time you experience a honeymoon period, where you see all of your friends and go back to all those places you longed for in the negotiation stage. Then the negotiation stage hits and you start to miss things that had become familiar to you in the foreign culture, and then finally things sync up again.

I’m not sure how much truth there is to any of this. It sounds a little too orderly to be one hundred percent accurate in describing how one truly feels about living in a new culture, miles away from home. I can’t say I really experienced a honeymoon stage or a negotiation stage rather I’ve experienced them both side by side since arriving here. Sometimes I’m fascinated by the language and other times it drives me mental. Sometimes I love the food other times I hate it. Sometimes I really miss home and the familiarity of England, other times I’m not so bothered and am swept up in experiencing this new place.

I had never been incredibly fond of where I came from. There were things about England that really grinded my gears. The things that irritated me about England were obviously swooping stereotypes and minor political grievances but when I was living in England they felt important. Important enough at least for me to want to pack my bag and see what it was like on the other side of the world. Then you get here and those sweeping stereotypes don’t disappear, those minor political grievances are just as apparent in the new culture as they were back home.

I have realised that I really like living in England, I have realised that perhaps England is where I truly belong, where I feel safe and comfortable. This by no means suggests that I don’t want to travel and continue to experience new cultures, but it does suggest that the place I call home is not the open road but is indeed the green, shady, shire. The stereotypes that I used to despise have begun to become things which I miss.

If coming here has taught me anything it's that England is where I'm 'meant to be'. It's where I have a sense of belonging. I guess this experience has given me some perspective. I miss the sun rising through the mist of the New Forest, I miss taking the dog for a walk, I miss my car and the freedom it allowed me, I miss my friends and my family, I miss going for a run in the forest early in the morning before work, I miss the bookstore I used to work in, I miss being able to communicate 'easily' with people who understood my 'place' in society. Korea has been a tough, thrilling, exciting and life changing experience, and I’m excited about the rest of my time here, but eventually, I look forward to going back to somewhere I can finally call 'home'.

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