Dear Reader, have you ever lived overseas in the same locale for an extended period of time? Do you agree with the contention that after the initial honeymoon with a new culture ends, you enter a cynical period in which you become overly critical of the location where you live? I talked to a Korean friend whom I met while in the United States. She argued that after awhile, foreigners (including herself when she was in the U.S.) who live apart from their own culture grow disillusioned with their host country and become increasingly cynical and skeptical of their environs. She went on to postulate that these feelings fade with time and eventually lead to a silent reconciliation with the host country’s culture, finally ending in euphoria as the expatriate returns to his or her own culture, or moves to another country. Do you agree?
I think this argument may be generally true, with two caveats. One, a person can fight these urges to be hypercritical of one’s host country by dwelling on the positive aspects of their surroundings. Two, a person who is well-acquainted with their adopted country also understands the reality of that culture and can adjust to it by embracing what they appreciate about the culture and marginalizing what they do not accept. I thought of this topic tonight after griping last night about overpaying for airline tickets on Asian airlines. Did I write it because I’m entering a cynical period during my two-year stay in Korea? Possibly. It is true that my earlier writings on Korea were generally more positive than they are now. It may be in part because of my ever-increasing experience with Korean culture and general preference for American culture (I am, after all, American, not Korean). Korean and American culture can be very different and at times, conflicting. I have less than one year left until I leave Korea. Now that I’ve been here for almost 1.5 years, I also have a better understanding of Korea. I appreciate some aspects of Korean culture more than I ever could have while learning about it from afar; in other respects, I appreciate Korean culture less now that I experience it every day. Koreans might say that that is because I don’t truly appreciate all Korea has to offer, but it’s an assumption that is independent of culture. They react in much the same way when they are in America. In all things, I try to dwell on the positive even when I am frustrated with the negative. For every lousy driver who cuts me off in traffic, there is an ajuma who serves delicious Korean food with a smile and a politeness I will surely miss when I leave.
Am I more cynical now about Korea than I was? Oh, probably. If you live overseas, Dear Reader, are you more cynical about your adopted culture than you were when you first arrived? I’m sure you are/were. But I think it’s critical to recall the positive aspects of a culture, and when possible, balance the cynicism with an appreciation of the benefits you gain living in a foreign country.
This ‘cycle’ you mention is seldom discussed, unfortunately, but it is very real. Each individual is different, and each phase of the cycle can vary based on location, support network, culture, individual adaptability, the climate, etc., etc., etc.
I agree with your friend’s initial observation of a euphoric ‘honeymoon period’ followed by cynicism. The cynicism is also replaced by a ‘silent reconciliation’ interspersed with short bouts of irritation/cynicism. As much as I love this country, I have never felt euphoric upon returning Stateside–rather, a sense of depressive sadness that most of my friends and relatives here will never share or understand my experiences abroad. The cycle begins anew with the next country, although once or twice I’ve skipped the honeymoon period and gone straight to the cynical. 😉
As far as getting past the cynical, I’ve one friend who was stuck in that loop for over seven years, and never reconciled. For myself, the last time took only a few months. If you are just moving into it, I would guess you’ll be coming back out of it about time for you to go wheels up. Hopefully, it won’t take quite that long.
The upside? Once you’re on to the next place, you definitely recall all the positive aspects of the culture, and you will miss it terribly.
One word of caution, however. If you enter the next ‘cycle’ (moving to another country) and try to base that experience on your current (previous) one, you may find yourself becoming cynical much more quickly–it’s an unpleasant experience. Try (as if it were possible) to enter with as few expectations as possible.