Before I went to Honduras when I was 17 I had class after class about culture shock from the organization I went with. I was again barraged with information about this cultural adjustment cycle when I studied abroad (both from Macalester and my program in the D.R.) and I have read about it in International Studies classes. So it was no new material for me when we had a session on cultural adjustment cycles during orientation for living in Namibia. But for those of you have not been exposed to this lovely cycle, here is a brief run down:
Initial Enthusiasm: everything is new and still relatively exciting and confusing.
Initial Culture Shock: Frustration with the new culture and system, rejection of things as “stupid” or not as good as they might be in home culture. Accompanied by homesickness, sadness, anger, and feelings of disconnection, which all may or may not have actual causes.
Initial Adjustment: Recognizing what you know and don’t know, ability to build on skills and understanding of culture that have already been learned. More comfort.
Further Culture Shock- more of the same but to a lesser degree
Further Adjustment: full adaptation to living in a new culture. Develop routines and habits that fit within the system, comfortable in the new location.
When I was in the D.R. I very clearly remember one day which was exactly two weeks into my study abroad. I had to turn in something for a class, but it had to be in a specific notebook which I could only buy in one place which was closed. I finally found someone who would let me make a photocopy only to go to the photocopy place and find that they only had odd sized paper. It was about 4 hours of terrible frustrations with a stupid system and even after it was finished I still felt depressed. I felt homesick in a way I had never felt, despite having lived away from my parents for three years prior to the experience. It was a textbook culture shock day.
This is the point I’m going through here now. Some of you may be saying, “but up till now it hasn’t all been rainbows and butterflies! You tell us about feeling bad and frustrations all the time!” And this is definitely true. But the first period tends to be filled with a feeling of just struggling to stay afloat when everything is new. Now that I am settling in, things are more commonplace and a lot of the initial rush is gone. Unfortunately first year teachers also have a very similar cycle, so my field director was not at all surprised when Monday I asked her, “why am I even here? I’m wasting my time with these kids who don’t understand me and I could be home with people who actually care about me.” My friends here weren’t shocked either. Some even agreed with how I felt. And I do still feel that way. Not all the time, but enough that this week has been stressful (not to mention the water and illness situation… stay tuned). Knowing that this is normal helps. Having people here who feel the same helps. Knowing that my friends are coming on Friday really really helps. Getting to watch National Geographic on my computer when I’m sick helps. ;)
This post is not me wanting pity, encouragement, or even understanding. I just wanted to talk a bit about culture shock and explain why some of my posts this week might seem a bit angsty. Are there any questions about what we just discussed, class? ;)