International Writers Magazine: Culture and Lifestyles
Unfortunately God disliked
their plan and detested their attitude. So He confused their language,
causing them to speak different languages so they would not understand
each other. By doing this, God thwarted their plans. These independent
groups moved away from each other into all different parts of the earth,
each developing their own identity, or culture.
of Culture Shock
The Tower of
Babel started a phenomenon that we are still dealing with today.
One race, one language, one culture existed before the Tower of
Babel. The Bible tells us that this mutual society decided that
they were going to build a tower that reached God, a stairway to
heaven. They did this in their pride, believing together they had
the ability to physically access God.
Have you ever visited another country and thought, "What in the world
is going on?" You were lost. You had no idea what anyone was saying,
and you didnt understand why they were doing certain things, and
what you had to do to fit in. To some of us, this is exciting and adventurous.
To others, entering a new culture is scary and stressful. Either of these
responses can be experienced upon entering a new culture, whether for
vacation, study-abroad, a business venture, or migration. These responses
are commonly referred to as culture shock.
Culture shock is the process of initial adjustment to an unfamiliar environment.
The term of culture shock was first introduced in 1954 by Kalvero Oberg
to describe the anxiety resulting from not knowing what to do in a new
culture. This "anxiety" encompasses five stages, which are present
at different times, and each person has their own way of reacting to them.
My two experiences of cultural integration were completely different,
and both incongruously included the five stages but didnt follow
Usually it begins with the new arrival feeling euphoric and pleased by
all of the new things encountered. This time is called the "honeymoon"
stage. Then a person may encounter some difficult times and crises in
daily life while trying to adapt to a new culture that is very different
from the culture of origin. The second stage is a difficult process and
often takes time to complete. During the transition, there can also be
strong feelings of dissatisfaction.
The third stage is characterized by gaining some understanding of the
new culture. A new feeling of pleasure and sense of humour may be experienced.
One may start to feel a certain psychological balance as one becomes more
familiar with the environment and wants to belong. This initiates an evaluation
of the old ways versus those of the new.
Again, after a few days, weeks or months, one grows accustomed to the
new cultures differences and develops routines. At this point, an
individual no longer reacts to the new culture positively or negatively,
because it no longer feels like a new culture. An individual becomes concerned
with basic living again, as they were in their original culture.
In opposition to the first four phases of assimilation, stage five is
reverse culture shock, or re-entry shock. It is experienced upon returning
to ones home culture after growing accustomed to a new one and producing
the same effects as described above.
When I travelled to Mexico in 2005 to live with missionaries in Jimenez,
Chihuahua, my experience trampled right over the five stages of culture
shock. However, it is possible that I just hit number one, and stayed
there. It wasnt like I was drooling over Spanish culture; in fact,
my initial feelings were of ambivalence that I had decided I needed to
go when I really hadnt wanted to leave my friends and fun at home.
Something happened when I crossed that border from El Paso into Chihuahua.
Maybe it was the tanned, skinny children staring at me with their bottomless
brown eyes. Or maybe it was the vibrant warmth emanating from the peoples
gazes and expression. It could even have been the soothing timbre of the
Spanish tongue on my Caucasian ears. I dont know what it was, but
after that first day in Mexico, I was at home.
I might have been in the honeymoon stage originally but I moved in and
out of it seamlessly, constantly balancing the old and new and always
finding room for the new. I did have conflicts, but they were always overshadowed
by an ardour I cannot explain. I think I had a love affair with Mexico.
If I had stayed (which I wanted to do) for the rest of my life, would
this passion have continued? My culture shock in Mexico was very limited
if existent. I had also been to Mexico once before, for a week, so I wasnt
entering a completely unfamiliar environment. My Spanish language skills
were basic, but enough to communicate and build on them.
My "shock" could have been lessened or diminished by these or
any number of different factors. That is the problem with "culture
shock". Many factors contribute to the duration and effects of culture
shock. For example, the individual's state of mental health, type of personality,
previous experiences, socio-economic conditions, familiarity with the
language, family and/or social support systems, and level of education,
according to Dr. Carmen Guanipa, Dept. of Counselling and School Psychology,
San Diego State University.
My migration to Australia in February 2007 brought culture shock to my
front door, and thats when I began to see what everyone was talking
about. However, only now can I see the faint outline of them in my cultural
adaptation here. I moved here permanently because my husband is Aussie.
When I married him, I knew full well that I was making a double promise:
to be his wife and to live in Australia. I didnt struggle with that;
I was adventurous and living in Oz seemed to fit in fine on my list of
My time in Australia has been quite different than my Mexican romance.
First of all, I knew I was staying and I knew it was non-negotiable. I
was a lot further away from home physically, but socially the culture
was much more like home than Mexico was. I skipped lightly through the
honeymoon stage, enjoying my first month or so, but it was not intoxicating.
The testing times of stage two hit me hard. Struggling to accept my new
way of living, I became very critical and defensive. I also felt alone
and out-of-place. I had no girlfriends, and my husband was always away.
I started university again, but depended on others for my transportation.
I was brittle inside, but I retained a strong front.
Getting a car and working part-time swept me quickly from stage three
to four, giving me a sense of independence, and allowing me to understand
society and blend in. As I resumed my second semester at uni, I began
to feel more Aussie than American. I found I was relating better to my
Aussie friends than the American exchange students. What had happened?
This is when I started to think about culture shock. I must have gone
through it without even realizing it. Just recently I found myself thinking
Australias my home now, I love it here.
For some reason it took me a lot longer to get to this stage in Australia
than it did in Mexico. Honestly I dont know the real reasons. I
still love Mexico and think about my Spanish friends daily. Ive
only recently developed a love for Australia. The cultures played disparate
roles in my life, but in the end Im thankful for both of them and
the experiences theyve brought me. As for the fifth stage, I had
severe reverse-shock when I returned to the States from Chihuahua. I found
it very difficult at first to readjust to my old life, often crying for
no reason and constantly comparing things. I hope the same thing doesnt
happen when I return home from Australia, but I highly suspect it will.
Rachel is a freelance
journalist, living in Australia on the Gold Coast with her Aussie husband
who whisked her from America only a year ago.
5. Furnham, Adrian and Bochner, Stephen. Culture Shock, Psychological
Reactions to Unfamiliar Environments. New York, NY: Routledge, 1989.
© Rachel Boone
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