Minnesota in Winter: Re-entry and reverse culture shock

Minnesota:  The state that freezes over in winter, where everyone must walk around looking like the Michelin Man to keep their skin from freezing off their faces. This place I call home. 

Friendly travelers passing through my parents backyard. I am pretty sure they heard I flew in for a visit and just stopped by to welcome me home. 

The place where leaving the house is just not a simple thing. The car must be started at least 10-15 minutes before driving to warm up. Also, in Minnesota we throw the useless window scrapers in the backseat and use a push broom to “sweep” off the car. For this activity another few minutes must be added. Although, it takes everyone two hours to get anywhere after a snowfall like this, so really, what’s the hurry?

The place where complete strangers, stuck in the snow, roll down their car windows and politely ask if you would mind pushing their car out of the snow.


Merriam-Webster Definition
            cold:  having or being a temperature that is uncomfortably low for humans.  having relatively low temperature or one lower than expected.


My Definition (a Minnesotan’s)
            cold: having or being a temperature that makes it unsafe to venture outside for longer than 10 minutes for fear of frostbite and the possibility of frozen limbs. requires ridiculous amounts of layers of clothing to prevent amputation. And just think, there is still an entire country to the north of MN!


           On a recent visit to my homeland, the land of many lakes (very frozen lakes at the moment), I was reminded of the true meaning of cold weather. 

A few lonely snowflakes, drifting slowly down.


          This winter (2014) the northern states and even some of our southern neighbors have been experiencing what some are calling “The Polar Vortex”. During my visit the weather actually decided to be nice and for several days we experienced a heat wave of 31°F (-1°C).  

Great Polar Vortex Pictures

          Only weeks before, I received numerous weather updates from family and friends.  I was instructed to enjoy Korea’s “warm” weather as the combined temperature and windchill in Minnesota had plummeted to a lovely -60°F (-51.1°C).



“The snow itself is lonely or, if you prefer, self-sufficient.  There is no other time when the whole world seems composed of one thing and one thing only.”
Joseph Wood Krutch


          Many states are reaching record shattering temperatures, and only one of the side effects of this drastic weather are the delays and cancellations of many flights. 

My backyard lookout. 

          While many people might be tired of winter, the snow and ice was a friendly sight as I stepped outside of the Minneapolis International Airport. I enjoy living in Korea, but I have to admit that I genuinely miss the snow. In my mind winter and snow are virtually the same thing, and one doesn’t feel right without the other. 

Nothing says “welcome home to Minnesota” like a bowl of delicious Chicken Wild Rice Soup. (meal courtesy of Panera).


        Being home was wonderful; to see the beautiful faces of my nieces and nephews, to embrace family members, and laugh with friends. 

       However, it’s strange to come back to ones life, but find out it’s no longer ones life. It’s like I live in a split reality. I live a very real, vibrant life in Korea, but I also strive to maintain and grow my relationships back home. This split reality is uncomfortable, I love to travel, I love living in Korea, but it wrenches my heart every time I lift off Minnesota soil. They say “home is where your heart is,” but it’s mildly uncomfortable when your heart and your body are on different continents.


        Re-entry into MN 

– I found it strange not to wear shoes inside the house. In Korea we have inside shoes for the house and work. 

– I was overwhelmed by the amount of English everywhere. A few times I heard someone say something and turned to answer, but stopped just in time when I realized they weren’t talking to me. In Korea if I hear English, there is a pretty good chance I am the intended recipient. 

– It was strange to not have celebrity status. I wasn’t stared at, no one was touching my hair, or whispering “foreigner” when I walked by.  The anonymity was actually quite nice, if not strange.

– It was wonderful to have someone say “Bless you” every time I sneezed. Koreans don’t have a response for sneezing. It seems like an insignificant thing to miss, but I find that I do. 

– I think it is hilarious that before taking off from the Minneapolis airport, airplanes must first go through a “de-icing” process.  

– I was home for only two weeks, and twice I was asked by a complete stranger if I wouldn’t mind pushing there car to get it unstuck. That is just what we do. 

– I loved (and laughed) when looking in my friends trunk that I found a shovel, salt pellets, and an entire winter survival kit. That’s just what we do. 

I found out upon my return to South Korea, that Ulsan does not handle any amount of snow very well. I felt bad, almost like it was my fault for the Ulsan “blizzard”.

2 thoughts on “Minnesota in Winter: Re-entry and reverse culture shock

  1. I love this post Mikaela, and your reverse culture shock is so similar to what I experienced when I visited home (Australia) while I was teaching in Japan. It's really hard! I'd love to interview you for my Fix Reverse Culture Shock site if you're interested?

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