June, 2012-Cha Jones
Is Home Where the Heart Is?
Home! I thought that was where the heart is. After, being in South Korea for nearly three years my heart was in Seoul. I love that place with all my heart!
In February of this year, I came back to the U.S. for a month long vacation, but due to some family issues and an unforeseen head on collision my stay began to look permanent. It’s June and I have just been released from doctor’s care, but the opportunities that were once on the table are no longer there. I’m sure I could return, but I have found an avenue that is allowing me to live on purpose with my passion, and at this time it’s here in America.
However, after being in Korea for nearly three years I will admit that I feel a little displaced, I am not really at home with being in America. I am, and always will be American, but it doesn’t feel like home anymore when the last three years I have had bank accounts, memberships, friends, special ways of doing things, adventures, relationships, and so much more that carved stability in the reality of my day to day living in Korea. Wow! I just looked in my purse and I found my Korean credit card, I even have credit to this day in Korea, and to leave all of that and return “home” is very challenging for me to accept.
I have no doubt that living the life of an Expatriate is still available to me, and I think that I will return to it sooner than later. However, at this time I am where I am suppose to be, but honestly speaking there are some many things about Korea that still makes it “home” for me, which has me thinking, “Am I the only one who has lived abroad and feel this way?” So, with that question, I decided to start a series on WOCLA's blog asking other women to talk about their journey of Repatriation. So, join me as I interview some young women who have lived abroad and for one reason another have come “home.”
Name: Sonya Stutts-Lawrence
Current location: Buffalo, NY
Where are you repatriating from? South Korea
How long were you an expat? 2 years
How did you adjust to the language barrier (what did you do to overcome this)?
Living in a country in which I was completely ignorant to speaking, reading, writing or understanding the language knocked me completely out of my comfort zone; however, it presents opportunities of self-discovery. It was frustrating at times, but Korea also had a free interpreter service I could call to utilize a translator when all else failed; that is a valuable service!
How long have you been back in America now? 2 years
What made you move abroad? The economy
How did the economy affect your decision to move abroad? Prior to moving to Korea, I was a Realtor in the Atlanta market and I had experienced lucrative years when the market was good; however, financial instruments began drying up, sales slowed to a crawl, and it was only the tip of the iceberg. Many companies were not hiring, so I applied for any and everything including teaching opportunities in Korea. They called, I answered, and the rest is history.
What was it like for you when you first returned home? Initially, exciting as I hadn’t seen most of my family in 2 years.
Was it difficult for you to find employment after returning home? Yes, but I knew it was going to be a challenge before I returned as the economy had only marginally improved if at all.
How long did it take to find a job? 6 months, and then I was underemployed.
After finding employment you say you were "underemployed," how so? It took 6 months just to get a Customer Service Rep job in a call center, and I had to convince the HR Rep that I was not overqualified and would not quit when a better opportunity presented itself.
What was the reason you decided to return home? While in Korea I met and married my husband, and after 2 years his tour was over and we were stationed in Texas.
When you returned home how did you feel? Optimistically torn, as I greatly enjoyed my experiences in Korea and travels throughout Asia; however, I was looking forward to the next chapter in my life which was to take place in the states.
When you returned home did you notice any difference in the people around you? Yes. Positively, the U.S. had elected their first African-American President and there was still some optimistic excitement about that unprecedented feat. However, conversely, others appeared to be pessimistic about the slow growth of the economy and its’ impact on them.
What has been your hardest adjustment since returning home? Being a military spouse.
Really, what adjustments do you think were different for you as a military spouse apposed to being a civil or civil spouse? As a military spouse, many companies do not want to hire you because they know you will be leaving within 1 to 3 years, and they don't want to invest in a transient employee. Unfortunately, the logic is flawed and they are doing a disservice to themselves b/c no company knows how the relationship with an employee will turn out. The key is to hire based on qualifications with the ability to function on a short learning curve, and maximize the talent for the duration they can commit. But that's the difference between leadership versus management.
Would you say that your adjustment was different or the same as the adjust you made when you moved abroad? Each adjustment was different for different reasons. Moving to Korea and transitioning to living abroad went very well for me. I received everything I was promised by my employer, I made friends quickly, and many of us explored Asia together. Although Korea, in general, isn’t one of the friendliest countries, it is fairly easy to get around while not being fluent in the language.
How has living abroad changed how you see things in American? It has added more balance and appreciation to my perspective. While no country that I have experienced yet is perfect, living and traveling internationally has heightened my respect for cultural differences. There are things in America that I have developed a new-found love for such as living and personal space, and the more wide-spread application of critical thinking. However, there are plenty of things I relished from Korea such as their cheap mass transit system, the plethora of mom & pop restaurants, the haggling in shopping, and the curious youth welcoming of a different culture, to name a few examples.
What do people say when you tell them that you lived abroad? People vary in their responses. Some find it exciting, courageous, or adventurous; while others have been fearfully amazed.
What do you miss about your life abroad? The openness and reception of meeting new people of all kinds (natives, ex-pats, transients, and visitors), and traveling to different lands. International airlines offer the best food, drinks and hospitality. Additionally, I must mention while abroad I visited North Korea in 2008, and that was certainly an eye-opening experience.
What don’t you miss about living abroad? Shoebox-sized apt, no ovens, and Korean TV. There were only a handful of English-speaking channels and they mostly televised some variation of Law & Order J
Do you think you will ever move abroad again? Absolutely!
Ok, where would like to move, why and when do you think you will be able to do that? I'd love to live in South Africa, UAE, Italy, Hong Kong, Venezuela...the list goes on. As for when, I don't know. I never thought I would've lived in Korea but I did and loved it. Why? I want to experience all that life has to offer and broaden my understanding, appreciation and respect of and for others.
What lesson did you learn while living abroad? Never underestimate the value of toiletries.
If you could have the best of both worlds, what would that look like for you? A bathtub, heated floors, keyless locks, a full-size 2nd-story loft, communal dining, clothes dryer, and a crime rate so low that when you pass out on the street from inebriation, you and your belongings are intact and untampered.
Finish this sentence….Living abroad was valuable and added to me being a more well-rounded person.
Finish this sentence….Now, that I have returned home I cherish my family more.
What advice would you give someone who is about to return home from living a life abroad? Be mentally prepared for the changes you will encounter returning home as you were when you ventured abroad.