Travel Thoughts: Being My ETA Self Again

I’ll let you in on a secret.

I’m actually a homebody.

Yes, I taught in Korea for two years and frequently traveled around the country. I visited Japan. Being in Korea made me realize how little of the US I’ve actually seen. Traveling to all 50 states is on my bucket list. So is traveling around the world.

#Wanderlust and all that.

But by nature, I’m a homebody.

Flying to Korea was my first time on a plane. What a first flight.

travel thoughts seasoned plane rider

Actually, it was a set of three transferring flights, starting with a 15-minute primer from Colorado Springs to Denver, 2 hours from Denver to LA, and then the 13-hour whopper from LA to Seoul, South Korea.

With all the international flying I’ve done since then, I’m a seasoned plane rider.

In a few days, I’ll be going to Seattle for my friend and fellow ETA alum Mimi’s wedding. I think of this as a testament to the strength of the relationships you develop in Fulbright Korea, something deep and unique that spans space and time (zones).

But when I accepted the RSVP to her wedding, I realized I’ve still never flown anywhere in the US, other than to transfer flights. (I don’t have to carry my passport? Whaa?) To everyone else, this probably sounds like a moot point, but I’m acutely aware of it.  I’ve never gone to a new city in my home country, completely on my own. I’ve never just struck out to go exploring.

It made me nervous.

But I’d done those things in Korea several times over. As the date draws nearer I can feel my travel muscles flexing and straining to go.

I’ve been at home too long for even a homebody. I’m itching for that same excitement I got in Korea.

 

When I told Mimi I’d be at her wedding, she mentioned being happy that someone from the ETA stage of her life was going to be at her wedding. Explaining that it could feel like she was a different person in different periods of her life, I could relate.

The me who was in Korea might have a difficult time recognizing the me today.

But I’m ready to revive traveler-Monica again.

travel thoughts winter path

Life After Fulbright Survey

A while back, the ETA program coordinator sent out an email asking alumni about their experiences re-adjusting to life back in the US. And yesterday, I participated in a webinar with current ETAs on the same topic.

I really didn’t think much about readjustment before I left Korea, only that I should expect to go through some sort of reverse culture shock.

I suppose I was short-sighted.

But since readjustment is a bigger topic of interest for the current cohort of ETAs, I thought I’d spend a little more time on it in this blog.

Here are my answers to the Program Coordinator’s Life After Fulbright survey:

Cultural Readjustment Experiences

Please describe your post-Fulbright cultural readjustment process.

What were some highs and lows during your transition from the Fulbright ETA program to your current profession and/or season in life? What were your experiences with reverse culture shock?

At first I noticed all the obvious, physical cultural differences. I’d get tired and overwhelmed easily by small things like grocery trips because I’d be taking in everything, including all the English conversations going on around me.

Highs were seeing friends and family again, and being able to pick up right back where I’d left off with people. The beginning was also fun; whenever you met someone for the first time since Korea, there was so much to talk about.

Lows were realizing that things had changed. I came straight to Korea after college, and this wasn’t college anymore. I moved back in with my parents and didn’t have the same connections I’d had in my college town. Many friends had moved away, and living with my parents again was a huge adjustment.

Not knowing exactly what I wanted to do (job or school-wise) I think extended my transition period. I had a lot of downtime and space to think, which made me antsy. I’m still figuring out what I want to do, but I’m getting better at being okay with uncertainty.

What strategies and/or resources did you utilize during your cultural readjustment process? Were they effective?

Please feel free to share any resources, articles, strategies, etc. that you have found to be helpful in your cultural readjustment process and overall post-Fulbright transition.

Talking with other ETA alums was great. It helped me realize I wasn’t alone in what I was feeling. It wasn’t just me who was stuck living at home or didn’t have a job yet. Talking with a friend who taught in Japan but had come back a year before me was also really useful. She told me she was still in transition, and that gave me permission to still be transitioning too. There’s a lot of pressure – from family, peers, yourself, your FB feed – to move on quickly to the next thing. It was a relief to remember that I needed to give myself time to adjust too.

I read a lot, mostly geared toward books on figuring out your career path. (Just so you know, the books below now have affiliate links, meaning I make a small commission if you purchase through the link.) Some of these books were:

Blogging about my experience also helped. Writing about your experience, even if you don’t share it, or talking it through with someone is a helpful exercise. I process through writing, but if you’re a verbal processor, find someone who will listen.

Post-Fulbright Academic/Professional Experiences

How have your ETA experiences influenced your professional and/or personal goals?

My ETA experience has certainly influenced my goals, although my goals are still TBA. If I end up in academia, I’d love to incorporate Korea into my research somehow, and I hope to continue studying Korean.

Do you utilize ETA-related experiences and skills in your current academic program and/or profession? If so, in what ways?

It’s funny – what I use the most right now is my blogging experience. I blogged (fairly) consistently for two years, experimenting with web design, keywords, SEO, and unknowingly teaching myself to write for an online audience. Now I’m freelance writing, mostly for blogs. I never would have anticipated that learning “I like blogging” would lead to a job.

If applicable, how did you go about searching for jobs during or after your Fulbright ETA grant?

At first, I searched halfheartedly online for any jobs I was qualified for in my area. I actually never applied to many at all. Working in corporate America just felt very unappealing. But somehow I came across some articles or blogs on freelance writing and decided to go in that direction. Now I have one regular client, regularly scan freelance job boards, and search for businesses I’d like to write for.

Have you utilized the Fulbright Korea alumni network after completing your grant? If so, in what ways?

Yes? I talked with ETA alums who I’d become friends with during my grant years, and stay in touch with the one alum in my area.

How did you describe your Fulbright ETA experiences on graduate school, job, and/or other applications?

Since I’m writing for a living, I emphasize my writing experience with Fulbright, including editing and contributing to Infusion. I’ve presented my ETA experience as teaching, writing, or international experience depending on the job.

Reflections & Advice

What were the highs and lows of your ETA grant year(s)? What were some of the major lessons and growing moments you experienced as a Fulbright ETA?

The whole general experience was a high for me. Living in Korea, meeting my extended family, having a job I loved, and exploring a new country were all wonderful. Some of my lows were feeling conflicted, privileged, and under-qualified as a teacher. Being a perpetual foreigner and outsider was also wearing me down by the end of my grant period.

What resources and/or pieces of advice would have been helpful for you to receive before finishing your grant?

It’s okay to not know what you’re doing next. It’s okay to take your time, even if your parents and your FB feed is telling you that it’s not.

And honestly, I think that it won’t help you much to hear this now. I probably heard something similar. But it took friends and mentors reminding me that I was in transition for me to be okay with it, and give myself time to adjust. I’d feel uncertain, uncomfortable or down, and become frustrated with myself for feeling that way.

So my advice would be to try this: write yourself a note. Tell yourself it’s okay to be adjusting or ask yourself how your transition is going. And then put that note somewhere you’ll find it later. Or put that note in a calendar reminder set for 1, 2 or 5 months after you return. Or make a pact with a friend to check in with each other.

Do you have any advice that you would like to share for current and future ETAs regarding the end of the grant year and post-Fulbright transition?

[See above, and] Be present wherever you are. That includes your remaining time in Korea and when you return to the US. I moved back in with my parents to my little hometown, and all I thought of was leaving as soon as possible. I wasted a lot of time thinking that way when I could have been engaging with the community here.

Conclusion

And that’s all!

If you’ve moved back from teaching abroad in Korea (or elsewhere) is this similar to your experience?

If you’re in the process of preparing to move back, do you have any additional questions or concerns? Feel free to let me know in the comments!