culture shock roller coaster

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the first time i heard about culture shock i was in madrid, spain with 60 or so university students from california. it was my year abroad and i was thrilled to call barcelona home for the next nine months. we had a few weeks in madrid where orientation took place and the topic of homesickness and adaptation was addressed.

having always been quite independent, i wasn’t sure i’d experience the stages on the culture shock graph. tearful calls home, a few scribbled journals, and consistent meals at Burger King indicated differently.

years later, my transitions into Colombia, Tunisia, and Korea reflected similar struggles. going from one completely different part of the planet to another is bound to need an adjustment phase. a simple example is this:

looking out the plane window as we descended into Tunis in mid August, my heart sank. where were the lush hills, the deep valleys, the green? having left such a place in Medellin, Colombia, the dusty aridness of Tunis’ landscape made something very clear from the start: this was going to be a change.

certainly it took time, then, to find my self in the new environment, to find my place within and without, to feel comfortable. i hit those stages on the wavy graph in every location…every, single time.

so, what made me think moving to Laos would be any different?

was it the fact that from all the places on the entire world map, we pointed to this small, landlocked country in southeast asia as our preferred destination to live? was it the crazy notion that we were following our dreams? was it the promise of fresh tropical fruit juices all year long?

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a couple of weeks ago i saw everything in rose tinted lenses. i had developed a crush on Luang Prabang. when i wasn’t smiling outwardly, i was inside. i believe i was honeymooning. craig noticed this from his place on the culture shock map, which was probably “initial confusion” or “confronting deeper issues” (he claims to jump from decline to decline). regardless, from where he stood i must have been completely annoying.

and then…then i plummeted. i just slid from honeymoon to “the plunge”.
let me illustrate:

one day i was gayly riding on my new bike in the sunshine when the left pedal fell off. it just did…in the middle of pedaling, in the middle of the street. irritated and slightly embarrassed, i found my way to the bike shop where my lack of language resulted in pulling the bike right into the center of the shop, exaggerated gestures, indicating how much money i’d paid for the bike only days ago. it got fixed. as soon as i hopped on to ride home, the sky downpoured. i arrived at our doorstep wet in sweat, rain, and tears. craig did the only thing he could: he hugged me.

this began a series of days where things just didn’t feel right. no real explanation. i  wished there was a Trader Joe’s market for me to get everything i needed. i wanted our neighbors to understand that yes, everytime the garbage bags are left on the side of the road, there will be dogs or cats clawing at them, sprawling trash all over the road. i needed the ants to go away, the mosquitoes to bugger off, the internet to work, and the unforeseen rain TO STOP ALREADY!

in this place, homesickness peeked in and settled. the feeling is familiar and i’ve realized how foolish it was to think that this experience would be any different.

i’m not sure one can get pro status on changes. there are certainly people who handle changes better than others, who live gracefully with Gratitude and Presence in their pockets, who have less dramatic peaks and dips in their acclimatization graph.

i am not one of those people. i know this.

but, i suppose the best thing i can do now is strap in tight for the rest of the ride.

{image credit}

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4 comments
  1. Ginger said:

    I really like this one. I’m definitely in the throes of one stage or another of culture shock. It’s actually good to know that there are other peopl out there who recognize and acknowledge it.

  2. For sure, Ginger! I can imagine that the shift from Korea to India has its twists and turns on that scale. I look forward to hearing about your adventure as well. Hang in there.

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