Thursday, January 3, 2008

Culture Shock 101: The Problem

Well after a month of existence, it's time for this blog to get to the meat and potatoes of it's mission. Sure we've had some n'yuks at my expense so far, but I'm a pretty easy target for that considering my ridiculous lack of common sense. Just as you learned from Wile E. Coyote that strapping rocket skates to your feet is a dumb idea in an area known for cliffs, you've hopefully seen where I should have done some things differently.

Culture Shock is a very real psychological phenomenon that effects everyone. For those of you with a metaphysical take on things, it may be explained this way. Every country and area in the world has it's own unique "psychic field" for lack of a better term. This field is basically the sum total of all the culturally unique thoughts, outlooks, and ideas of the population. And stepping out of that comfort zone and into one you are not used to literally shocks the psyche and can cause all kinds of weird things to happen to your state of mind.

For example: Those of you raised in the US as a child probably remember the old schoolyard taunt "nya, nya, nya, boo-boo, stick your head in doo-doo!" Where did you learn that? Who taught it to you? The bigger kids right? Well, where did THEY learn it? I don't remember any taunting seminar when I went in to Kindergarten. It's the same anywhere you go in the world. People just do certain things because they are inclined to by merit of being born in that particular culture.

Dr. Carmen Guanipa of the San Diego State University College of Education wrote an excellent piece on this phenomenon that you can read in it's entirety here. And I'd like to quote some of her work for the purposes of this post and others where I address this psychological annoyance and how to deal with it.

Culture Shock
The term, culture shock, was introduced for the first time in 1958 to describe the anxiety produced when a person moves to a completely new environment. This term expresses the lack of direction, the feeling of not knowing what to do or how to do things in a new environment, and not knowing what is appropriate or inappropriate. The feeling of culture shock generally sets in after the first few weeks of coming to a new place.

We can describe culture shock as the physical and emotional discomfort one suffers when coming to live in another country or a place different from the place of origin. Often, the way that we lived before is not accepted as or considered as normal in the new place. Everything is different, for example, not speaking the language, not knowing how to use banking machines, not knowing how to use the telephone and so forth.

The symptoms of cultural shock can appear at different times. Although, one can experience real pain from culture shock; it is also an opportunity for redefining one's life objectives. It is a great opportunity for leaning and acquiring new perspectives. Culture shock can make one develop a better understanding of oneself and stimulate personal creativity.

Well if my new agey description of it confused you, I'm sure Dr. Guanipa's was alot more clear. The next post on this subject will cover the symptoms and their effects on an expat, exchange student, or habitual tourist abroad. Until then, safe journeys and DON'T PANIC!!


Nicole said...

The shock often results in me wanting to strangle certain types of people.
Is there a therapy for that coming soon on your blog?

Merlyn Trey Hunter said...

Me too, darlin'. Believe me. And yes a therapy strategy for that is forthcoming!

Garg the Unzola said...

I'm from South Africa. We have 11 official languages and even more cultures. You can imagine that we get about 75% of yoru daily culture shock requirement. Every day.

LAD said...

In my country, The Philippines, we have about 300 languages, most of them are local tribe languages use in the ancient years and provinces who have their dialects.

But we only use Tagalog and and English whenever possible. Although I am still in a shock everyday, seeing and hearing people talked differently.
Have a nice day! Greetings from the Philippines.!

Merlyn Trey Hunter said...

Garg (love that name): I can only imagine! Your country has the distinction of being quite the "melting pot" too. How many languages do you speak yourself?

lad: 300? Good gravy, that's alot of dictionaries!! Are the languages at least closely related? I guess that's why everyone I've ever known from the Philippines was really smart!

Greetings from tentative US soil in Costa Rica!

Garg the Unzola said...

Languages I speak myself:
Afrikaans (1st language and the best langauge in the world, ever :))
English (it's ok, gets the job done)
isiZulu (bits and pieces, was a requirement at school. I quite like it)
German (self-taught, not really one of our languages except for my area and Cape Town)
Polish (bits and pieces, not really useful here unless you want to chat up tourists)
Very, very basic isiSotho (fair amount of Sotho speakers in my area, I can greet and ask for something and say thank you.)

I am also fluent in c++, java, php, html, xml, assembler, javascript, ActionScript.. oh, my bad.

Garg the Unzola said...

Oh and thanks, but Garg is not my real name. It's a play on gorgonzola, garg the unzola, in parody of Black Metal musicians.

Btw thanks for your comment on my blog, if you want to see the movie check out online internet archive, it should be in public domain.

Mats said...

Funny to see you mention Dr. Guanipa's article - I looked up that one so many times myself when trying to cope with the culture shock of moving to Australia myself!