Jun 5, 2013
The Truth about Culture Shock
**I've had this sitting in my Drafts for a while now. This is how I felt when I first arrived, but I'd say I'm almost completely over this kind of culture shock now.**
I've heard of culture shock before. I think I experienced it a little bit the last time that I moved to Germany. I had always thought it was one of those funny things people say. "What a culture shock," they'd say. Like they're joking about the weather or having to drive stick shift for the first time. It was a funny thing, nothing to lose sleep over. Now, I can firmly say that I know what culture shock is, and it's not what you think it is.
I didn't experience much culture shock the first time I moved to Germany because I lived on post where I could eat Taco Bell and buy Guess jeans at the PX. My neighbors were as American as they come and there was no question of getting internet, finding a job or using my debit card. If I experienced any culture shock that time around, it was probably just from moving so far from home at twenty-one.
I had assumed that culture shock involved being literally shocked. Like something people only experience when they travel to a country where daily life is so different that you are literally shocked by it. What the pilgrims felt when they met the native Americans and visa-versa. I figured that because Germany was a developed, European nation that I wouldn't struggle with the culture at all. I didn't even consider culture to be an issue. I've lived in southern Alabama. That that was a real culture shock.
But culture shock is no joke. The name is perhaps a little misleading. If it's a shock, it's more like the shock you get from extreme pain that renders you numb and catatonic. Real culture shock isn't about accidentally calling yourself a jelly donut or saying "guten abend" when you should be saying "guten morgen." It's much more than that.
Culture shock is feeling uncomfortable in every setting you're in. Culture shock is being different and feeling different. Culture shock is losing the life you lived. Everything about your own life feels foreign. Culture shock is not feeling like yourself anymore. It's feeling as if your home doesn't even exist anymore. Culture shock is feeling alienated and alone. Even when you're not.
I believe someone from Alabama would feel culture shock moving to Montana, and visa-versa. I bet someone from California would feel culture shock in New York City or Montreal or Johannesburg or Seoul. Culture shock is blindly walking into the unknown whilst trying to keep one foot in your comfort zone. People can easily say, "embrace your new home." But anyone who's tried it can agree that it is harder than you think. We are loyal people. Loyal to what we know and what we are comfortable with. It's easy to resent our new and foreign location. It's easy to rebel against the change.
Culture shock is really just homesickness in disguise.
It's okay to miss your home. It's okay to miss Barnes & Noble and Starbucks and Mellow Mushroom. The key to moving past the culture shock is to stop comparing what you have now (or lack thereof) with what you had before. You can't force the feeling of home, but if you fight it, it will never come. Culture shock isn't about your new environment, it's about you.
And once you've figured that out, it's pretty easy to overcome.