Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Culture Shock Déjà-vu

Culture Shock Déjà-vu

You were expecting this.  The sudden onslaught of a new culture as you step out of the airport thousands of miles and an ocean away from home. 

The people are different.  The food is different.  The houses are different.  And everyone’s behaviour just seems weird to you.  You feel alone and out of place. 

This is called culture shock and it is quite normal actually when people travel to foreign places with cultures that are vastly different from their own.  For example, Canadians travelling to the United States don’t experience a strong level of culture shock.  Other than having to get over the fact that ice tea does not come already sweetened (an issue I have experienced and that still irritates me to this day), there isn’t much difference and most misunderstandings are small and irrelevant.  Compare that to travelling from Canada to Thailand, however, and my unsweetened ice tea fiasco pales in comparison. 

Most travellers are aware of this phenomenon and prepare for it accordingly.  A little bit of research beforehand can do wonders in preparing a person for the sudden change in culture; helping them adjust more easily so that the shock wears off sooner rather than later.  The same is true for students participating in internships or exchange programs for extended periods of time.  They might miss their families back in their native country but soon enough they feel quite at home conversing with the locals, bartering with the street vendors and immersing themselves in culture.

And then they go home and it is like déjà-vu.

The culture shock hits them again but this time it is their own culture.  One would think that going home would be easy.  After all, home is familiar.  The culture and the people there have been with you throughout your entire life. 

Yet, all of a sudden the people are different.  The food is different.  The houses are different.  And everyone’s behaviour just seems weird to you. You feel alone and out of place.

I had a friend who travelled to Africa for a year to teach English.  I love her to death, but when she came back, there were a few habits we had to break her of before taking her out in public.  She had completely adapted to the local way of life down in Africa and it took her a little while to become “Canadian” again.

As “off” as she seemed to us though, I can only imagine how we all seemed to her. 

When you have travelled somewhere foreign for an extended period of time, you become fully integrated into a different lifestyle.  You alter your behaviours and you adapt.  You pick up on some of the local habits and idiosyncrasies without even realizing it.  The realization only hits when you finally come home.

You obviously won’t have to do all the pre-planning and research in order to lessen the culture shock déjà-vu, but you will have to be prepared for it.  After living a different life for so long, don’t be surprised if you need to take a while to ease yourself back into your previous life.  You’ll adjust.  But don’t forget everything you learned about your adopted homeland and definitely remember to keep in touch.

No comments:

Post a Comment