Culture Shock! It can hit at any time. It rears it's ugly head without any warning. Symptoms include irrational fears, anger, frustration, tears, utter shock, desires to be a hermit, changes in appetite (i.e. needing more chocolate than normal), not wanting to get out of bed, forgetting how to speak, the desire to go back home and burn your passport. This list is not exhaustive and symptoms may come and go at random times.
Me: "Sweetie, can you help me with the laundry."
Daughter: "Sure mom! Where are the pin thingies."
Me: "What pin thingies?"
Daughter: "You know! The thingies you hang up the clothes with!"
Me: "Ohhhh! Honey, this is America. They use dryers here."
Daughter: "What's a dryer?"
Me: "We've been gone too long..."
This was an honest to goodness exchange between my daughter and I shortly after we returned back to the U.S. after living overseas for several years. For my kids, coming back to the U.S. was a bigger culture shock than what they'd experienced overseas!
I remember the same thing happening to my siblings and me when I was a kid. My little brother was completely shocked when we stopped for gas at the 7-Eleven and went inside. "There are things in America I never would have dreamed!" Mom decided to wait on taking him to Wal-Mart!
We spent a year in language school on the island of Java. This was a "soft landing" for my family and we had a very good experience while living there. After that we moved to the remote island of Papua. NOTHING was the same! Same country, but totally different culture. Even the language was butchered and different. I still remember crying after a trip to the store. I felt like I had wasted a year of trying to learn a new language. We were really surprised when culture shock hit us here, after living in this country for a year already. We didn't struggle near as much going from the U.S. to Java!
Culture Shock does not come just when you are new in a country. It can happen to ANYONE at any time. It doesn't care of you are a newbie or a 30 year veteran. I wish I had this brilliant list for you... "How to Combat Culture Shock!" But unfortunately, I don't! My post on how to "Get Rid of Winter Blues - Even in the Tropics" has many tips that will apply to Culture Shock as well.
Some things to remember when having a "Culture Shock Moment"
- I think the most important thing is to remember that you are not alone! No matter how crazy you feel, it will pass. I have seen my husband come home excited and thrilled to be here. The next day he is hating everything about where we live! We ALL do it!
- It is important to remember what your vision, calling, or passion is and why you are there in the first place. This would be a great thing to write down. When you are in a slump, you can look back at what brought you there in the first place.
- Another great thing to do is make a list of blessings. Keep it on your desktop or somewhere close by. Write down your blessings so that you can refer to it again and again as needed!
- Find a friend that also lives in another country and can be there as a sounding board when needed. Although your family and friends may sympathize, they can't grasp exactly what you're going through. If you don't have someone close to where you are, email me! You can reach me at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can join one of our Facebook groups. Expat Moms Around the World OR Homeschooling on the Mission Field.
OK, It's your turn!