Saturday, June 9, 2012

Third Culture

Well, the time has come once again. Textbooks have been returned, chairs have been stacked, and bookshelves have been covered in anticipation of their six weeks of collecting dust. The end of the school year has come and summer is upon us! This time of year has become increasingly bittersweet. Sweet, of course, because we get to head back to the U.S. and see family and friends. Bitter, because the end of the year, especially in the transient environment of international schools, is synonymous with saying goodbye to favorite students and cherished colleagues and friends. And so, sad goodbyes are intermingled with excited conversations of attending weddings, meeting new babies, and of course eating Chick-fil-A. It is a strange emotional dance that we learn more and more about as we spend time overseas.

Frankly, I have been a bit in denial over the end of the school year this year but I’m not really sure why. Don’t get me wrong, I love my summers off just as much as the next teacher and not all of the tears I shed at graduation were sad “I’m going to miss you” tears.  Yet, there is something about doing away with my beloved weekly routine that has me a bit apprehensive. As I pondered this trepidation more deeply, I came to a very strange realization. This year, heading back to America, I am afraid… of the culture shock. Over the past few weeks, I have peppered our families with questions about what things we could find in America that have become so important to our lives here. Can you find dried seaweed? What about good tofu or sticky rice? Will we have to drive to the nearest playground?  Will we have to drive everywhere?

It is strange to have some of the same feelings I had a few years ago about Taiwan and Korea now toward the United States. I have to remind myself that this is my home country and I will figure things out. I will undoubtedly quickly fall back into a routine that includes Target, Publix, and Sonic. The girls will certainly develop new tastes for good watermelon and Cheerios. All four of us will become reacquainted to sitting in the car rather than using a stroller. I will be reminded how awesome it is to have a question in a store and actually be able to ask it and understand the answer. But, the fact remains that my “normal” isn’t what it used to be. I am beginning to settle in more to the “third culture”, not my home culture, not Korean culture, but that strange no-man’s land that lays somewhere in between. 

So, as we prepare to cross the Pacific once again (let’s not discuss that daunting task), I have a favor to ask. If we show up at your house and I have a freak-out about trying to strap in a car seat or the way the rice won’t stick together, be patient with me. I just may be experiencing culture shock. Just throw a Chick-fil-A biscuit my way and hopefully we can hedge off any... unpleasantness.