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!

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Sick: Dealing While Abroad

Last week I was hit with the double whammy of a bad head cold immediately followed by the stomach flu. Fun.

sick-in-bed-illustration

On the bright side, everything looks better after you’ve recovered from a cold.

And while I was stuck in bed, thoughts in a haze, I remembered that I’d been sick in Korea quite often. In fact…

I spent my first Christmas in Korea sick in bed with the stomach flu.

I threw up the morning of Christmas eve and missed the last day of school, which was also the day of the school festival.

I continued throwing up anything I ate, including medicine, which came in the form of light green liquid in a little pouch.

My second year in Korea, I had frequent stomach problems too, although those were mostly anxiety-induced.

I know a thing or two about being sick in Korea. And so why not talk about it?

Fulbright Health Insurance

Teaching in Korea through Fulbright, you have health insurance. Sort of. It was more of a reimbursement system that I never took advantage of.

If you could make it to Severance Hospital in Seoul, great, you’re covered. If not, you had to save your receipts and prescriptions, fill out a bunch of forms and wait quite a while to be reimbursed. Even then, there was a minimum copayment of something like $25 (don’t quote me on this), and I never went above that amount.

The good news is, health care in Korea is extremely cheap!

Healthcare in the ROK

Whenever I caught a cold, I found that people in Korea would tell me to go to the hospital. What?! I’d exclaim, usually internally, go to the hospital for a cold? How silly! But then I caught a more serious cold and my host mom took me to the biggest hospital in Gimhae.

The doctor examined me and told me things I already knew – duh, I know I have a cold. Then he prescribed some medicine. The whole visit was brief and it cost…

…7,000 won!

That’s less than $7, with the exchange rate.

I was shocked. My insurance back home would have required a minimum of $50 for a simple doctor’s visit, not including any tests or special procedures.

I was even more shocked when my host mom noted that it was expensive. With health insurance, she said, the visit would have cost only 2 or 3 dollars.

What gives, America?

Medicine in Korea

After paying my expensive health care costs, I went with my host mom to pick up my medication. It came in a simple paper packet and included five or six different pills I had to take with each meal.

Cue another what?! moment.

Each pill treated a different side effect, which I guess made sense.

Despite the medicine being intimidating it was still cheap, although I can no longer remember the price.

American medications come with a miniature pamphlet of fine print instructions and side effects and commentary. All the information I received on the Korean medicine fit onto one packet about the size of a half sheet of paper.

Although I’ve heard foreigners complain about the lack of information on medication, it seemed to me that all the basics were there: purpose, dosage, side effects, and warnings.

Later on, I did become more savvy and got my medicine directly from pharmacies.

meds1

I took a lot of pictures of my medicine, so I’d know what to get next time. This is a typical cold medicine and a sort of traditional health drink.

Hospital Communication

I’ve visited Korean hospitals for colds and stomach problems. But I’ve always gone with either a member of my Korean family or host family.

In most cases, I explained my symptoms to the doctor in my rudimentary Korean and it was enough to be understood. Sometimes the person accompanying me explained my symptoms again and answered additional questions from the doctor.

Once the doctor surprised both my host mom and me with a slew of medical English. We both listened amazed as he communicated with in perfect, although rather technical, English. I found myself having to listen a little more carefully in order to keep up with his jargon-filled way of speaking, but it was a bit of a relief – and a source of amusement to my host family and me later – to have the person in charge of my medical care understand.

Korean Ideas Around Sickness

Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same for some of my coworkers. It wasn’t the English department’s English ability that hindered the understanding between us, but a cultural difference.

When Americans get sick, they call in and get a sick day.

When Koreans get sick, they medicate and persevere.

That Christmas Eve when I had the stomach flu? When my host mom called my coteacher about me being ill (as I lay groaning on the coach), he initially said to come in for the morning and see how I felt. Later, he saw and dismissed me.

Another time I was at school with a strong cold. It was sixth or seventh period and I didn’t have any more classes to teach. I drifted off to sleep in my office chair, since napping in the teacher’s office is an acceptable practice, and kept nearly falling out of my chair.

My department chair finally came over and told me I could go home for the day – but quietly, so no one would know.

That same department chair once caught the stomach flu and didn’t eat for three days. She came to work as usual on each of those days.

All the Hospitality and Care

Despite what I view as unrealistic, unhealthy views on work culture and sickness, it was the times when I got sick when I became aware that the people around me really did care deeply for me.

During my second year, there was a period when I worked in an office where all my fellow teachers were my mother’s age or older. I ate really healthy that semester, and we never seemed to run out of fresh fruit and other snacks.

When I fell ill, they forbade me from drinking coffee or eating apples – which are a “cold” fruit and not good for people with colds (this article on traditional Chinese medicine explains the idea behind hot and cold foods).

When I went through a period of frequent nausea, a couple of coworkers took me out to a juk (rice porridge) restaurant, which is easy on the stomach and the go-to sick food in Korea. It’s like chicken noodle soup.

chicken-and-veggie-juk

Actually, just kidding. Samgyetang is Korea’s version of chicken noodle soup. And it’s delicious, cold or no cold.

samgyetang_chicken soup.jpg

Being sick in Korea wasn’t so bad, and at times I felt more cared for than I did on my own in college.

So if you’re sick in Korea, I’d say:

  • Don’t shy away from a hospital visit.
  • Brush it off when someone tells you not to get sick or to take better care of yourself.
  • Do hang out with and accept any gifts of food from any ahjummas you know.
  • Be open to different types of medicine and different beliefs about sickness (but you don’t have to end up believing them yourself).

Pro-tip #1: You can go directly to the pharmacy to pick up cold meds like 화이투벤 or just explain to the pharmacist that you need 감기 약  (cold medicine).

meds3

The same cold medicine from earlier on the left, and cough drops on the right.

Pro-tip #2: Theraflu exists in Korea.

meds2

Here’s the proof. And a packet of pear extract and root I received from a coteacher.