The first thing I can tell you about culture shock is that it is very real and it is absolutely awful! I wish I had know about it before I came here rather than learning about it 15 years later. Life would have been a lot easier if I could have understood the awful disorientated feelings I was struggling with.
Culture shock is a very common problem but not everyone will experience it. It doesn’t just affect immigrants either, it can happen to anyone who is traveling for an extended period of time. I’m pretty sure the severity of your experience will also depend on where you go and how culturally different the country is from your own, for instance I should think going from England to South Korea will be a lot harder than going from England to America.
There are a range of symptoms that go along with culture shock all of them are equally shitty but here is a list of a few of them –
- Extreme homesickness.
- Overly critical reactions to host country. Including inappropriate anger and hostile behaviour.
- Feeling Disorientated and Isolated.
- Helplessness and dependancy.
Cheery list isn’t it? compound that with the feeling of crippling guilt because you left your loved ones behind and the isolation you experience from not having your loved ones around who can help you. Now can you see I wasn’t exaggerating when I say its absolutely awful?! It drove me into a depression for 8 months where I wouldn’t leave my flat and felt if I had actually brushed my teeth that day it was an accomplishment. Maybe just maybe if I had known about culture shock and understood what it involves I would have dealt with it better and not been knocked over so hard by it.
There are 4 stages of culture shock and we will go through them now. Don’t be scared read through them and you will be better prepared than I was!
Stage 1 – Honeymoon.
This is the best bit just like a new relationship. Everything seems magical. This was the best decision you ever made! The excitement of new languages (11 official languages in SA), exotic new cultures and OOhhh the food! Perfect sunny weather, Joburg thunderstorms are genuinely amazing. I still love African fashion. The endless possibilities of a new life and what that might look like. My new country is so much nicer compared to my crappy ex country! The people are so much more interesting and friendly. Why didn’t I leave years ago?! If you leave before the next phase hits, then you will be left with amazing memories. If you’re staying then lets have a look at what comes next. This is where is starts getting a bit crappy.
Stage 2 – Frustration.
If you have read my previous blog post then you might recognise this as the stage where I stood and cried in the supermarket because I couldn’t find an Oxo stock cube! It basically does what it says, the sheer fatigue and frustration of not always understanding whats going on. What starts off as exotic and exciting just becomes a ball ache after a while. Where do I start looking for a job? where do I meet people and start making friends? how do I open a bank account? Why don’t you understand my slang? why is everyone so weird?! If you have moved to a different hemisphere the seasons are all arse about face. Christmas in summer is just wrong! Add to this dealing with visa paperwork and you can see why this stage is so problematic. So when you are feeling irrational anger it’s ok, you are just in the frustration stage, it will pass. Get professional help if you need. I was at Wits Uni and all I wanted was a cup of tea, but my accent was so strong the woman couldn’t understand me, she asked me “what language are you speaking?” and when I told her English she just laughed at me and I walked away without my tea and a feeling of complete rage.
Stage 3 – Adjustment.
Frustration will start to subside and slowly life becomes easier. It’s when you start to find your feet. We know how to get to the shops and places start to become familiar. We have a few set routes that we know and are confident with. If someone asks you which way to the post office you can give directions. We know to buy Knorr stock cubes instead of Oxo. It’s when the simple things that seemed so hard start to become simple again. We have managed to open a bank account, get a job and start to make a few friends. We are starting to build the beginnings of our new life.
Stage 4 – Acceptance
Here we are, finally we accept that life is what it is. This stage can take a few months or years to arrive at. There is no set time limit, it depends on you as a person and the situation you’re in. It doesn’t mean that you completely understand everything that’s going on or that it all feels like second nature to you, its just you accept that everything is different and you can roll with it a lot easier. It has taken me years to get to this point and even now after 16 years something small can set me back to stage 2 again, the difference is I can recover much quicker now than I could all those years ago. South African slang has crept into my vocabulary, I know how to get around. I have a life now. I will never get used to Christmas in summer but I accept that it is, and I still enjoy it.
So to summarise the process will go as follows-
- Wow this is amazing! best thing I have ever done.
- Oh my word, what was I thinking! this is the worst thing I have ever done.
- Ok its not so bad.
- Actually this is alright! it was a good decision to move after all!
You will get through this! its going to be tough. Like a bad acid trip you just have to ride it out! it will pass.. Then once this is all over and you go home, you have the joy of re-entry shock to look forward to. YAY! more on that subject next time. Thank you for joining me. Your support is alway appreciated.
Bye for now xx