Six months ago, in June, I moved from Camp Humphreys, South Korea, where I'd lived for five years, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for my freshman year of college. During my time in South Korea, I lived primarily on base and in military housing. This led to the majority of my “formative years” spent on a military installation interspersed with the usual exploring off-base, which came to an abrupt end with COVID-19. Long-story-short, before coming back in June, I had not been to America in a little over three years. I mistakenly thought that living in America would be similar to living on base. Here are the top three weirdest culture shocks I have experienced since “moving back” to the states.
One of the more subtle things I had to get used to when moving to America was the sheer amount of "stuff" the country has. I’m talking different retail outlets, grocery stores, hardware stores - anything you can think of. This might seem like something obvious, but coming from a military base where the main sources of food or goods came from the Shoppette, PX, or Commissary, the amount of brands and stores in America was a little off-putting.
First off, not having to stand for the anthems is great - except for when you’re operating on auto-pilot and briefly forget you are in an American movie theater and stand up right before the movie begins. Then you have to suffer through some weird looks and explaining to your friend group why you stood up in the first place. Secondly, the movie doesn’t actually start at the time advertised. Apparently it is the norm that the movie will start about 20 to 30 minutes after the advertised start time to account for trailers and ads. I was painfully unaware of this and thus arrived at the theater 30 minutes before the start time, got to my seat, then waited an hour for the movie to begin - which I found a little excessive.
The “Dress Code”
America's "dress code," or lack thereof, most definitely caught me off guard. When on post in South Korea, there was a certain dress code that everyone had to abide by. Active duty wouldn't typically have a problem because of their uniform, but the rest of the base followed rules such as having a shirt on at all times when in public. Additionally, South Korea has unwritten “cultural modesty rules” where the area from your collarbone to your knees (including your shoulders) should not show in public. Within 24 hours of being in America, I saw two people run past me shirtless (in the timespan of 15 minutes), which was not one of the things I was expecting to be surprised by. (There’s also the shock of seeing your first “Walmart fit” for which you can never be really prepared.)
As I continue to adjust to living in the states, I am sure I will discover more weird American culture shocks, which begs the question: what were your weirdest American culture shocks?