What’s Worse: Culture Shock or its Reverse?

Staring up from your luggage at an entirely new scenery is daunting no matter where you go, but returning to your home country may yet be more intimidating. People come and go—it’s a natural ebb and flow through time—but now its your turn. That feeling may very well be the worst.

I don’t know what was scarier: throwing myself into a country where I had only basic functional language skills and vastly different lifestyles or watching all my friends disperse to their respective homes across the globe, knowing that I must also do that all too soon. With the constant lectures from family, friends, and the school coordinating staff, I knew full well what I was to face with my decision to spend five months abroad—or did I?


I packed my bags and left the quiet life of Kansas behind for the hustle and bustle of Seoul with an open mind. I had been abroad once to Ecuador as a volunteer and knew that I would have to approach the tech-savvy South Korea differently. I never was an avid drama or TV watcher, so I had few ideas of Korean life which I needed to be disillusioned from, but I had enough working knowledge to know what not to do. My mindset was simply to learn as I go and to build my humble knowledge. I figured that my meager knowledge was inadequate, which initially led to some unnecessary anxiety on the trip over, but I found that this open-mindedness would come to serve me well in the long run.

On the flight over, I sat next to an older American gentleman who happened to be a culinary arts instructor in Daegu for a number of years and was returning from vacation. Originally he thought I was on my way to become an English teacher and he began narrating his tales—and his passion—of Korea to me. As I enjoyed his conversation, I did not want to break in to tell him that I was merely a college student going for a semester at Yonsei University. He continued to detail his story for several hours, explaining what he wished he knew before coming. I found my fears being relaxed away and by the time we landed I was in a state of pure exultation, if not for the new experience ahead, for the fact that the seemingly incessant plane ride was over!


After stepping off the airplane and flowing through customs and immigrations, I immediately connected to the free airport wireless (one of the perks of South Korea!) and zipped off a message to my penpal who was kind enough to pick me up. We found each other easily and, between her broken English and my broken Korean, headed off towards my accommodations in Seoul. We spent the rest of the afternoon together at ease, trying my first Korean meal and orienting myself among the maze of Seoul streets.

I expected to have a wave of culture shock hit me at any moment and for the high of newness to wear off, but nothing could damper my enthusiasm. Two weeks passed and I left my guesthouse for the school dormitory. A month passed and I was well into the rigors of my study. Yet another month slipped by and still no sign of the foretold “devious” culture shock. Nothing reasonably unexpected came up and slapped me in the face. Nothing stifled my excitement as the school counseling said it would. I was in Korea and determined to learn and love it!

End of Year Class Dinner

Months flew by and soon I found myself at the end of my stay. One by one, my international friends began to leave as I awaited my mother to join me on one last adventure gallivanting around Seoul. It was time to say goodbye to the last of my friends. I dreaded the flights back home, taking 30 hours in its entirety. At the same time, I was thrilled for the future; the prospects and the classes I was to take the next semester were the meat and potatoes of my curriculum.

We landed in a terribly windy snowstorm and arrived home in the thick of night only to collapse in our beds from utter exhaustion. Sleep came easily—too much so, as a matter of fact. Jet-lag tore at my mind and exacerbated my emotional state. I was in a constant state of tiredness and the on-rush of preparations for my next semester inclined to destroy my sanity. One application after the next, one box packed to another, the tasks on my list compiled until I was all but completely overwhelmed. I longed to rejoin my friends in Korea. I made embarrassing mistakes out of habit. I could not fathom how everyone else remained exactly as when I had left them. I had to force myself not to follow my desire to lock myself away from society until my brain rebooted and processed that Seoul was no longer my doorstep.

KSU + Snow

A couple weeks upon my return, I moved back to school. I had high hopes that school would distract me from the distress of the reverse culture shock, only to find my longing increased. Each day I woke up without registering that I was back in Kansas. Only after a month passed and all my faculties were employed in my coursework did my mind start to sort the mess out.

Perhaps it was the support I received from both Koreans and other ex-patriots that made my transition much smoother and culture shock nearly non-existent. Or perhaps it was my lack of desire to return to my home country that heightened the effect of reverse culture shock. Either way, reverse culture shock was certainly the worst for me. What about you? Do you have any experiences with the two? Which do you think or have heard is the worst?


Mid-Autumn Festival

MidAutumn Festival - China9/8/2014. It is the Mid-Autumn Festival for this year. It is the second most important festival in Chinese culture (the first one is the Chinese Spring Festival). In Chinese culture, people pray to the Sun for a plentiful harvest and people pray to the Moon in appreciation for the harvest. So, you can say the Mid-Autumn Festival is Chinese thanksgiving. Koreans also celebrate it as 추석 (Chuseok), but I’ll let Dani write more about that later.

What do people do for Mid-Autumn Festival? Families gather together on this day and have a party while watching the Moon. Many people eat moon-cake during this party and different cities have their own way to celebrate this festival.

MidAutumn Festival - China 2The moon is important in Chinese culture as the Chinese calendar is based on the changing of the moon. Every Chinese month is a period from the new moon to the full moon and then back to the new moon again. As such, every Chinese month has 30 days and every 15th day in the month is the day that has the full moon. Normally, the Mid-Autumn Festival has the biggest and brightest moon in the whole year. Chinese people associate “reunion and happiness” with the full moon, and associate “separation and loneliness” with the incomplete moon. When a Chinese person sees a full moon, they miss their family and friends more.

Moon-cake is the special food for Mid-Autumn Festival. It is said that since the Tang Dynasty(618~907 A.D.), the moon-cake was similar to the one that you can find today. Here is the history behind the moon-cake:

MooncakeDuring 1271~1368 A.D. China was controlled by Mongolia. During that period, Chinese people were treated as animals. Chinese people didn’t have names, only a number was used to identify themselves from others. For example, the first emperor after this period is Zhu YuanZhang, but this name was given by himself, because he was called 88 when his parents were living. He could only choose his own name after all of his family members had been killed. When Double Eight was leading his army to fight with Mongolia, he had to capture a city, NanJing, which is protected by a tall and strong wall. Double Eight asked his men to cook a lot of moon-cakes and put notes in them, which said, “We are coming to attack after 10 days.” They sold the moon-cakes in that city on Mid-Autumn Festival because only Chinese people eat moon-cake and celebrate the festival. Therefore, when his army came after 10 days, they found the city was already controlled by the citizens. If you go to the city, NanJing, you still can see the broken walls that were broken during the second World War.

Misconceptions of Evolution

Evolution versus creationism has been an argument for quite some time. This little video, no matter which side you stand on, helps clear up some points around evolution:

Incentivizing Charity


I was recently confronted on the issue of providing incentives for charitable acts. The question posed was a great one: is it wrong to donate and take an incentive in return? After pondering it for a while, here is my response:

A deep chill blew through the streets, biting deep into my bones. A sea of people, on their daily commute home, flowed like an endless river coursing through the streets. A man growled at his phone over a dropped call. A woman flagging down a taxi cried out in agony for the car to stop so she could make her way out of the cold. But I, I had nowhere to go. Nowhere I needed to be. Nowhere to head off to. It was just me, the chill nipping at my nose, and a stray thought begging my attention. I needed to find a place to sleep; somewhere warm and cozy or even just a blanket to keep in my warmth when the night fell. I needed the simple necessities that many of the mob could easily afford. By the end of the day, I did not care where my food came from—whether a volunteer handed it to me or just a passerby. I did not care how, just what.

When people are caught in desperate situations, they do not care where or how the sustenance gets to them. The thought of whether it was from an altruistic donation or a rewarding fundraiser does not even cross the mind. People need these goods, and, even though it seems unethical, if providing an incentive gets the goods into the hands of the needy, then it is well worth it. Incentives for donating help create a feeling that it is reward and also brings about the habit of helping others wherever possible.

“For the want of a horse, the message was not delivered. For the want of a message, the war was lost” (Japanese Proverb). If there are no incentives (the horse), then there may not be enough blankets (the message) to go around, so the person in need (the war) does not get the equipment needed to survive (the loss). Incentives have been proven to be an effective way of raising more money and collecting more goods than not having an incentive. There is always a need to fill, and the more we can fill it, the better off everyone is. It is a win-win situation.

Oftentimes, school fundraisers have rewards for reaching a certain level or donating a particular amount. Many times these are silly gifts that mean little to the person who donated. Students fight their way to the top and bring all they can, not for these prizes, but rather for the prestige; for the ability to say, “I went all out and brought in this much!” It is that feeling of accomplishment and good-will that truly rewards the students. This feeling fosters a habit and a “moral obligation” to help others later in life.

By the end of the day, I did not care if my food came from the soup kitchen or some good-willed stranger. I did not care whether it was donated because of a reward. I did not care if it was donated for the sake of ethics or not. I did not care. I needed it. It was sustenance. It was life.

What do you think? Is it hypocritical or unjust to give charity with an incentive attached?

Graduation Season is Here! High School Students – This is for You

Graduation season is now upon us, so I am addressing this to all my high school senior friends and readers. Firstly, congratulations! Graduating high school is a huge bench mark! Now it is time to celebrate the end of one stage and beginning of the next. Right now you’re brimming with self-confidence over your success in high school and maybe, just maybe, you’re thinking it’s going to be an assured cakewalk at your chosen college. As a friend and fellow student myself, I’m here to tell you it’s not. To gently dispel such naïveté I’d like to proffer these five nuggets:

1. Studying. To all my graduating high school seniors and fellow high-achievers, I’m going to put this bluntly, get over yourself if you don’t think you have to study. If high school didn’t require you to study much, starting learning how. Now. Figure out how to study and get good at it. Discipline yourself. You will find that an extra hour of hard studying pays dividends on a test.


2. Tests. At university a lot rides on them and they’re demanding. In high school I was one of those super-achievers that took nine AP tests my senior year and felt sure that I could fare just as well in college. I’m an engineering major and believe me, if you think AP tests are as hard as it gets, think again. College tests can be harder still and it can be disconcerting to realize that no matter how many tests you take, you might never feel 100% prepared for any of them.


3. Grades. Here’s a shocker: grades aren’t everything. Chances are you’re a sharp-shooter. Maybe you’ve bulls-eyed good grades with little or no effort and you’ve felt “mission accomplished.” Well, the target changes in college. Don’t aim exclusively at grades. Instead, the mature student knows that mastering the material will get you farther in college and life. Do that, and the grades will come. Guaranteed. Plus, your professors will recognize your hard work, which just might give you that extra sway when you need a half-point at the end.


Research. If you have even a hint of interest in research as an undergrad, field notwithstanding, ask your professors about getting involved. This serves a dual purpose: 1) your classroom professor will know your face and associate you with hard work and passion and 2) you will get your foot in the door for a possible job in a semester or two—and I don’t mean working the library desk at midnight. Especially in the sciences, laboratory professors are always looking for capable underclassmen to grab the knowledge baton as seniors graduate.

scientist working at the laboratory

Moderation. If you do not set limits, you will quickly get overstretched. If you hear the story of the 3 S’s, Sleep, Social, and Study, you might be told you can have only two. However, if you are skilled about it, you can have all three—but only through moderation. Equilibrium is tricky to find. If you can’t have all three, then do a great job on two—just make sure one of them is Study.

everything in moderation

No doubt you’ll find others besides these five. Keep yours in mind when you’re asked to pass on your wisdom to your underclassmen friends after you. Now, hit the ground running at college this fall!

Top 9 Reasons Why College is Humbling

Recently I have been on a bit of a list mode. As my first semester at an American university is wrapping up with two weeks before finals, I figured I would share some of my experiences. College has been extremely humbling for me. I came into college, believing that I would have an easy time in (but not necessarily breeze through) college. Hate to break it, but I was dead wrong. I am sure that I can possibly attribute it to my major, chemical engineering, but at the same time there are a lot of factors that turn against you when your in college. Here’s nine points of truth about one of the most humbling experience you will ever have:

1. You know nothing. Trust me, the earlier you accept it the better off you will be in college. You pay to attend in order to gain knowledge (idealistically) and a degree (realistically), but it will be much easier to pursue the latter if you are wide open to attaining more of the first.


2. No one knows anything. Literally. There a ton of concept, science, and information out there that no one can know it all. Even the masters of their fields will have gaps. This is why academia is a huge collaboration.

nobody knows anything

3. Only the basics are computable. When computing your physics problem of a car rolling to a stop in your PHYS 200 class, remember that you are leaving out a ton of factors in order to have an example simple enough to calculate. It’s never as simple as a few lines of math. This same reasoning applies to more than just math and science. Take economics for example, a lot is analysis and guesswork with probability curves and simplified models. Just be aware that once you look beyond the basics, your mind will be blown.


4. The process you were taught before was never correct. More often than not, you’ll enter a class with a good background only to find out that you have been doing it wrong the whole time. Turns out that it was oversimplified to make it teachable to high schoolers…


5. Valedictorian in high school? Not anymore. If you breezed through high school, be ready for a wake up call. I had taken college classes in high school because I ran out of classes to take and I still find that actual university classes are harder. Lovely.


6. In every class, something with always sound like a foreign language. Of course this is true if you actually are taking a foreign language, but it is also true no matter what subject. There is always some bit of information or important concept that you must wrap your head around that seems completely counter-intuitive.

Studying Japanese

7. You meet awesome people. The best part of college is the people you meet. You’ll make many lifelong friends and meet interesting characters. Simple advice: respect everyone. I guarantee you that you can learn something from every one.


8. Someone’s always better than you at something. That’s just outright life, but it becomes clearly evident when you begin to meet the thousands of people on campus. Don’t fret it though, just enjoy and strive to hone your skills.


9. The world costs a ton. This is the killer. The big pain and worry that you now have to deal with. Turn this negative into a positive by playing the game. See how much you can save off of this or that item by shopping around. Never pass up free. Oh, and coupons are your best friend.


Nothing says “welcome to life” more than college. For those about to enter college – don’t despair! The challenges are easily overcome with decent awareness and diligence.