Revelations while living in America

It has been a year of changes. In March we moved back to the US and have spent most of the year camped in Pennsylvania by my family. Just recently we began the transition to upstate New York. Two moves in one year, one out of country, one out of state. We’re definitely psychotic.

I’ve back here long enough now to enjoy the full spread of reverse-culture shock and to evaluate how life here in America differs and get a sense of the lifestyle that suits me. I’ve discovered some surprises such as…. I’m a city girl now.

I grew up on a farm and I’ve always loved green spaces and communing with nature. Indeed, that is one of the things that I disliked about Seoul so much: so little green around. Too much glass and concrete. And after living in one of the biggest mega-cities in the world, I realize that’s not for me. However, coming back to America and living in literally, the middle of nowhere, a tiny village five miles from town, I know that I prefer a city.

I know that I sound like a contrarian who can’t be happy anywhere. I don’t want to live in a city like Seoul, but I’m not happy to be living across from a corn field in Pennsylvania. Fortunately, in my travels, I’ve discovered that while the world is full of extreme contrasts such as these, there are also places that are in between.

The benefits of a city are undeniable. Particularly when it comes to transportation. I have lost my taste for driving. A commute is way more productive when you can check emails, study, or even just relax with a video or book. You don’t have that luxury when you drive everywhere. As a couple with sometimes conflicting schedules, sharing a car has been really tough. But cars are expensive to purchase, insure, and fuel up, so I’m reluctant to get a second one. Of course, I remember the rush hour trains in Seoul with a shudder. You can’t be productive if you’re standing armpit to armpit with everyone else, letting four trains pass until you can creep forward in the platform queue.

And while I love all the variety of activities in the city, I don’t miss the crowds. Any event in Seoul would have tens of thousands of people crowding to get a look or take a turn. It’s almost as annoying as having only three place to go within a half an hour drive. So I’ve gone from too many people, to too few options. I’m not making my case for not being a contrarian yet, I know. Bear with me.

After being back in America for most of a year, I have come to the conclusion that this might not be where I settle down. There is still a lot of America that I want to explore and my husband and I agreed to give New York state one year as a trial run. And there are surely some American cities that might strike a balance between the two extremes that have driven me a tiny bit crazy. But life in America is surprisingly tough. Rent and utilities are very high, especially on the east coast. Living without a car is impossible if you don’t live in the very heart of one of the top five biggest cities. Healthcare is extremely expensive, and employers like to hire people at just under full time hours so they don’t have to foot the bill for that health insurance. That’s without touching on the overall financial and political instability as well as the violence and racism that keeps a mixed couple like us steering clear of certain regions.

More and more, my mind keeps turning back to 2015 and the month I spent in France. No doubt, France has its issues too. Every country has its issues. But I think as you travel you get a sense of the lifestyle you want to have and the things that are important to you in a place. You figure out what assets are most important and what flaws you can live with. So for me Lyon was the city that has most matched what I’m looking for.

It’s small enough that you can walk from place to place easily, but if you need to go further or are feeling a bit tired, there’s affordable transportation all through the city. It’s got beautiful architecture and affordable apartments. It’s connected by train to many major cities in Europe. There are museums, theatres, shopping areas, gardens– all sorts of activities to enjoy. But it never felt horrendously crowded, and it has much lower crime rates than major US cities, so it never felt unsafe either. It just felt like the place for me. (Though Hamburg was pretty tempting as well.) It offers the opportunity to work in my field again as well, and France seems to promote a better life/work balance than the US or Korea manages to do.

So, I’m giving New York one year. Then we’ll see. But at the end of that year, I might be setting the wheels in motion for France.

What about 2018? I’m not going to hermit myself away. We have plans to visit at least two new countries this year. We’re hopeful for Sweden and Mexico as we have friends in both places that we’re eager to see. And maybe I’ll have to drag my husband to France so he can see what all the fuss is about.

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5 Comments

  1. It’s such a big difference living in a city like Seoul compared to a town back in the states. Even a city like Milwaukee, where I’m from, pales in size to mega cities like Seoul. The bigger the better is what I say when it comes to city living. I pale at the thought of heading back to america unless its a big city like NYC or Los Angeles or Frisco. 🙂

    1. Nah, I like a little bit of personal space. I’m not enjoying country life, but cities like Seoul and NYC are a bit much for my every day. Moderation is key. The balance of infrastructure and breathing room is what wins me over.

  2. I agree with you that driving everywhere is such a hassle, you have to pay attention the entire way (unlike zoning out and missing your subway stop with a good e/book) and you’re not getting any of the fitness advantages of commuting by bike/walking. And if you can get used to commuting by car, there are all those silly disadvantages like having to pay for medial out of your own pocket, not clicking with people and having to get used to being away from Kimchi for too long (I’m serious). Traveling is hard and settling down in a new place is even harder, glad to hear you’re open to new living opportunities like France (let us know how it goes).

    1. Oh, I know. I went to a Korean market recently and bought a very large quantity of kimchi and soy bean paste. And I feel like my leg muscles are atrophying most of the time.

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