I thought we would spend today’s entry looking at something that almost every international student will experience at some level. It is something I understand well as I have lived in several countries other than my own and experienced first-hand at a young age – Culture Shock
What is culture shock? I believe culture shock occurs when you are truly on your own, abroad, and is a fine concoction of missing home, being in unfamiliar surroundings, unfamiliar food, and different customs in a different geography. This leads to feelings of isolation, loneliness and most dangerous of all resentment.
When I landed in Japan, I had been hired by the Japanese government to teach High School. After a week of “training” (mostly experimenting with how much beer and sushi could be put into a stomach without getting sick), in the ultra-modern city of Tokyo surrounded by people of my own culture, I was shoved on a train and put deep in the Japanese countryside by myself – the only westerner in a small farm village. It was the middle of July and I had never endured such heat and humidity or confronted a species of wasp the size of a small airplane, battled cockroaches that could fly, and the worst of all – experienced a ground that moved back and forth! Yes, I had never experienced an earthquake before, especially while under attack from flying cockroaches and murderous wasps.
This initial misery led me to start finding fault with everything about Japan. I was sad, lonely, hot, scared and miserable. I couldn’t speak the language, nor could I read the signs or the menus and there was no such thing as the internet or smartphones yet. As a result, I saw everything about Japanese culture as wrong and everything about my own culture as right. (I saw this in reverse when I took my Japanese wife to my hometown in the middle of winter. It was minus 35. She had never believed that such temperatures existed or that people lived in them. She soon announced that everything in Canada was wrong including the traffic lights). I almost went back home. But I am so glad I didn’t.
Japan changed my life for the better and I wouldn’t be here typing this blog now had I not gone through that initial culture shock. As for my wife, she loves Canada now and only regrets not changing husbands!
So next week I will offer some solutions for mitigating culture shock that may help!