Culture Shock

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESMy daughter returned from South Korea last month. She served a mission for our church there for 19 months. It’s been nice to have her home again (even if she must now leave again for college). She has made me laugh at how shocked she’s been by everything here in the U.S. after being away for so long.

She thought it was cold here when she walked out of the airport. The temperature was in the high 90’s. But she left a Seoul summer which was maybe the same temperature, but extremely high humidity. She said she was soaking wet all the time and none of her clothes ever dried out. It’s dry here too, which is freaking her out. She can’t drink enough and applies lotion constantly–but her skin still feels like it’s scaling out on her.

She thought it smelled weird here too–like dust and bread (and she didn’t sound complimentary). Hmmm. I guess it’s what you get used to. I’m definitely not used to the smell of kimchi in my fridge since she returned. Every time she opens the bottle, that spicy strong scent permeates my house.


a fridge full of kimchi = happiness to my daughter

I thought she’d be all excited to eat American food again…but so far, she has only survived because we have a kind friend from church who has brought her several types of kimchi and we have also visited the Asian market. Our food seems to make her sick. Koreans love their food…and my daughter now loves their food too. She might have a rough time of it at college when she has even less selection of Asian food in a smaller town.


Another thing that baffled her was how much space is here. She kept commenting how short the buildings were and how many open fields and dirt lots there were. “Koreans would grow so many crops here” or “So many people could live here” were oft repeated phrases.


We do live in the west…in Idaho. Yes, there are wide open spaces (thank goodness!). And no, we don’t see the need to build skyscrapers. There’s plenty of room to sprawl outward. But since South Korea is about the size of Utah, and there are many more people there than in Utah…they build upwards and grow vegetables in any small scrap of available dirt. A five foot plot of earth between buildings will have Korean grandmas planting food in it. Everyone grows things in balcony containers. Open space has shocked my daughter.

Traffic shocks her too. She’s afraid to drive because she says for the last 19 months she has only had aggressive driving as an example. Supposedly, Koreans drive crazy and drive their cars on the road wherever there is space…and if there isn’t, it’s not uncommon to drive up on the sidewalk to get where you are going. According to my daughter though, they have way less accidents than we do here. Go figure.

One amusing thing that happened at a store was when we were walking out the exit. I paused to let another man enter with a big filled shopping cart. He said “Excuse me.” and my daughter asked afterward…”Why did he excuse himself? There was plenty of room for us and even more people to go out.” I guess in Korea, you push and shove as part of life. If you say “excuse me” you are basically admitting to doing something wrong. They never say excuse me. And they push and shove and don’t find that rude at all. Very different from here.


It’s funny to watch her adjust to her own culture again. She ate everything fed to her and grew to love most of it. The only foods she wasn’t fond of were raw, fermented sting ray…steamed silkworms….and bloody pig intestines. Her palate can definitely take a lot more spice and heat than before she left. We went to a Korean restaurant in town and she rated the food only about a 7 out of 10 that we could barely digest. In a sushi restaurant, she used all her Wasabi, 3/4 of mine, half of my son’s and 1/2 of my daughter’s until her soy sauce/wasabi mixture looked more like pea soup…and she said she still wouldn’t mind if it was hotter.


So that is a taste of  my daughter’s culture shock (with her own culture).  Have you ever experienced culture shock? What crazy foods have your tried? Have you ever eaten kimchi? Did you know you’re supposed to wash your rice before you cook it? I didn’t. Have you ever eaten stingray…or been stung by one. I think it might be one and the same.

Have a great week.

char sig heart

35 thoughts on “Culture Shock

  1. That surprises me that she didn’t crave things she ate as a child. I love Asian food so I can see wanting to keep it in her diet. Interesting how sensitive her stomach is to American food. What a great peek into another culture. Thanks for sharing. I did know you’re supposed to rinse rice before you cook it, but I’ve never eaten Stingray. When I came home from France, I was so disappointed in our wine. It just doesn’t compare. I would not like to be somewhere I was always sweaty and wet. That sounds nasty. I’m glad she experienced it all and I’m glad she’s back home for a bit. Even in college, I’m sure you’ll get to see her more often.

    • She craves kimchi with a passion. And yeah, she told me we’re supposed to keep rinsing the rice until the water is clear, not cloudy. It’s much better when we do it that way. And now I want a rice cooker after using hers (which she will take with her to college). I’m with you not liking sweaty and wet. That just isn’t fun (I don’t think she misses that part). She says she misses being in a big city and using public transportation. I think she’s crazy…but I’m glad she’s confident with big cities now.

  2. My nephew and his wife moved to Korea a couple weeks ago. He is involved in the Korean Punk Rock scene. They are having a good time based on what I see on Facebook.

    Will pray for your daughters adjustment back to our crazy culture. God bless her for her missionary work there and as she heads back to college.

    • Your nephew will probably love it. My daughter can’t say enough good about Korea. She thought the people were so polite and wonderful. And she loves their culture and food. I hope he has a great time there.

  3. A coworker of Korean descent introduced me to kimchi. Spicy but very good!

    Culture shock is a funny thing. I experience it both times: once when I’m going abroad and once when I get back home and adjust back to my own time zone.

    Ah well. I’ve found that a smile, a show of true interest, and a friendly attitude works in the countries I’ve visited.

  4. How wonderful that she embraced the Korean culture. It’ll be interesting to see how she transitions to her new life in college. I’m sure you’re thrilled to have her back in the U.S.

  5. Oh wow, how wonderful it must be to have her back! Sounds like an amazing time. I can’t imagine not seeing my child for 19 months. I’m sure it was beyond thrilling to see her again.

    When I returned from Paris after a year of being an au pair girl, it was strange, but nothing like this. As for this: “raw, fermented sting ray…steamed silkworms….and bloody pig intestines.”—-Oh my, I would’ve gotten awfully skinny if those were my choices!

    • Yeah, those things she didn’t enjoy, but for the most part, she felt their food was so much better than ours. I set her up with a rice cooker, 25 pounds of rice, seaweed and kimchi makings to get her through college. Now she just has to buy her fresh produce and eggs. Her roommates might hate her for the smell of kimchi though–it’s very strong.

        • I made pizza the other day and she had to cover her slice with kimchi. I don’t mind kimchi with rice, but the pizza thing she pulled was just down-right weird.

            • I love pizza too, although the older I get, I want the good, expensive pizza–not the cheap $5 ones that we’ve survived on most my life. And if it was between a slice of pizza and a banana-nutella crepe…crepe would win. Quiche wouldn’t. Cinnamon roll or brownie would trump them all though.

              • I rarely eat pizza now. Nowhere near what my teen sons do. But if one of them gets one on the weekend, I’ll usually cut off a crust. I don’t have that teenage metabolism anymore, so pizza has become a luxury. Sigh.

                • Yeah, I don’t get tons of pizza either. Right now, I’m stressing over spaghetti. My senior signed me up (without my okay) to feed 50-80 cross country kids for the spaghetti feed tomorrow. That might get a little hairy here. Eeeks! I’m wishing I could just feed them all pizza. It would be much easier than cooking that much spaghetti.

  6. Talk About Culture Shock! Sounds like she immersed herself in the culture, the people, the food, etc. while over there. I have experienced culture shock in my travels – the crazy driving, the food and the markets to buy food, etc. It is quite the adventure and the experience though 🙂

    I do wash my rice and use a rice cooker. I am not a fan of spicy though – have the Tums at the ready – ha!

    Happy Day – Enjoy!

  7. This is so interesting to me! I saw this same kind of culture shock in my two sons who returned from their missions in Japan and one who served in South Africa. It was especially strong in the latter as he saw such extreme poverty in Africa and had difficulty justifying the waste and wealth in our little area of Utah when he returned. It’s so enlightening to see things through new eyes when a child returns from a foreign mission.

    • Yeah, it is. I felt that culture shock about poverty and waste here after only a week in Egypt…so I’m sure your son spending 2 years in Africa really had it bad.

    • Oh, I’m sure you would have done so good that you would have been begging people to feed you that fermented stingray that numbed your throat and stomach as it made it’s way down to be digested. Hee hee.

  8. I lived in Korea for almost a year and a half, but I didn’t love the food, so I’m impressed by how much your daughter loved it. I think you see everything differently when you’re a missionary. So glad she’s back safe and sound–and that she had a wonderful experience!

    • Yeah, missionaries seem more willing to try new things than us set-in-our-way adults do. She has a one track mind now with kimchi though. She is always looking for some good kimchi to eat. I can hardly eat much because it is so HOT.

  9. I’ve never tried kimchi, Char, but one of my son’s majors at university was Korean so no doubt he’ll tell me it’s tasty and awesome. He worked at the Thai Burma border in a refugee camp for a few months in 2012. When he came back he was quite different and extremely grateful he grew up in a free democracy. That really was a culture shock for him 😉

    • That’s awesome about your son. My daughter loves everything and everyone associated with Korea now. Living in a different culture is such a neat experience for them. I’m sure the Thai Burma border refugee camp was crazy. Good for him!

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