Same Place. Different Me.

Many days have passed since my return to Hawaiʻi and the first few days had jarred my psyche.

As I landed in Oahu, I didn’t feel the full effect of how 8 hours of flight had moved me so many miles. No sadness and no happiness. Just a, “well, here I am again.” I went through customs, grabbed my bag, and headed outside into the Hawaiian sunshine to wait for my friend to pick me up. I immediately noticed the diversity of people which gave Hawaii one of its many nicknames: the melting pot. Besides the varying ethnicities, the physical traits of people were different. They were overweight, skinny, tanned, semi-tanned, pale, shirtless, old, skinny, young, without makeup, caked with makeup, tourists, and locals. Although I’ve been living in Hawaii for a while now, this was visually shocking for me once again, since I just arrived from Seoul, Korea, where the people try their best to duplicate mannequins and fashion magazines that flaunt the latest trends. I also heard English, so much English. I could understand every conversation. It was all quite the sensory overload. I felt torn. I had worked so hard during the summer to smooth myself into Korean society only to be back in a strangely familiar society.

Later that evening I met up with some friends and they asked me about my trip. As we were talking about the late bus that we were waiting for, I began to say, “In Korea---” before I was cut off by a friend who said, “Well this isn’t Korea, is it?” I decided not to finish that sentence. I was still recalling the experiences and changes that I went through and I felt that for some reason, my friend did not want to acknowledge them.

To be honest, the first day and a half back was completely fine. Life here became quickly familiar. However, two nights in, I suddenly felt the full pangs of reverse culture shock. I suddenly realized that my diet had to change, the primary language was no longer Korean, and my group of friends was different. My classmates whom I had become so close to in Korea were now an ocean away, and I had old friends in Hawaiʻi that were waiting for me to rejoin their circle. To be honest, I miss my classmates in Korea the most. They helped me grow and view different parts of the world in a different light. We spoke for hours on end, managing to understand one another, despite our imperfect Korean. I laughed and cried with them. They became my family. I miss them.

The people in Korea aren’t the only thing that I’ll miss. Although I only stayed there for a little over two months, I made bonds and began a life in that small country. Even though a cool breeze, mountains, and the Hawaiian sun greets me every morning while I lay in my comfy bed, I still miss the overcast sky, mountains surrounded by apartment buildings, and my hard floor bed. Millions of neon signs ensured that Seoul kept its title as “The City That Never Sleeps.” It was much unlike the dim and quiet nights I experience now on campus in Hawaiʻi. I can see both places in my mind so clearly, and I changed to suit one style of living. Now I find myself forced to change again.

The reality of living abroad, even if for a short time, is that the life that you make in that foreign country may leave more than a lasting memory. It may leave you lost and unsure what life should be like. The country you return to may be the same, but it’s you that has changed.

It is me that has changed. But I can’t let this bring me down. I cannot pine for a place that I cannot return to for some time. I should acknowledge my time in Korea this summer as a special one while embracing my life here. There’s no use in looking back when I can make the future my own.

This does not mean that I will forget those people who entered my life while in Korea. There are always various social media platforms and video calling to keep us in touch. There’s no way that I can throw them away.

Of course by going to different places, people’s relationships with others, themselves, and their view of the world changes. This change is both frightening and beautiful. It’s a sign of growth. I may want to marvel and stay with the growth that I made during the summer, but I also acknowledge that there is more growth and change to come and all I have to do is build on the ‘me’ I became this summer.



Raquel “Rocky” Reinagel is a MA candidate and graduate assistant in the Department of Second Language Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa; former president of Hanwoori Hawaiʻi; and Co-President of the Second Language Studies Student Association (SLSSA) at UHM.