Post by Lauren
I actually hope that by the time I post this, I am over my down-funk that I have been living in all week.
But I knew that it would likely come…….
In acclimation class, we learned about the various stages of culture shock. This is the true terminology, but I realize that when I use the phrase “culture shock”, it comes across as strong or extreme. I think maybe a better way to describe it is “culture disorientation,” so for the purpose of this blog post, I’ll use that vocabulary.
For those who aren’t familiar, the textbook stages of “cultural disorientation” go like this:
1. Initial excitement
2. Initial anxiety
3. Arrival fascination
4. Initial culture shock
5. Surface adjustment
6. Internal shock
7. Acceptance & adaptation
8. Return anxiety
9. Reintegration shock
However, it is not guaranteed how long you stay in each stage as well as both spouses can be in different stages or move along the continuum at different paces.
Here is a depiction of this with our 8 weeks here in Geneva. The pink is me and the blue is Gabe. I actually don’t even know where we are on the numbered list…..maybe somewhere between 3 and 5.
“How can you be blue in the land of cheese and chocolate?” one might say. “Don’t the Alp views you see daily give you a high all the time?”
We would probably be happy non-stop if it weren’t for culture disorientation – a reaction to the loss and to the ambiguity created by the unknown rules of the new culture. So, at our downturns, some may seem reasonable (we miss friends and family) but some others may seem a little silly (laundry, not being understood, not understanding).
However, sometimes the little things can have pretty big effects. The textbook explanation is that these little things get at the core of your self image – on how you view yourself as a person. You used to be capable, but in this new situation, you are not. While you were seen one way amongst your community in your home country, in this new country, people react to you and see you differently. While you expect to miss your friends and family, you don’t expect to feel like a different person some days because of your environment.
Here is an example…..after standing in a really long line at the grocery store, I happened to have a zucchini in my basket. When the cashier got to it, I hadn’t known to put a produce sticker on it from the machine in the produce department. So, it didn’t have a barcode for her and she growled some French disdain at me. I didn’t know enough French to explain that I didn’t know and I was sorry, that they could put it back, or I could put it back, whatever was easier to keep the line moving. I just kind of muttered “je suis désolé” which i thought was “I’m sorry” and just stood there pitifully while they got a manager to come take the zucchini, weigh it, bring it back and plop it on the register with even more disdain for me and my idiocy. The people in line behind me gave me exasperated looks like I ruined their day.
And this happens every day – I don’t necessarily get down on myself that I didn’t know how to do things – that is to be expected. But, some of the disorientation comes when people perceive you as something you never believed yourself to be. In the US, that situation would have gone differently for me because I knew the language and norms of my local grocery. I would handled myself fine. And it gives me empathy for those visiting the US and how they are treated if English isn’t their primary language and they are just starting to learn, like I am here.
And of course, the peaks of this experience are well worth these downturns. As I share on Gratitude Fridays, these highs are just incredible. The highs are just balanced by the valleys too; as is life – full of ups and downs.
Like the top photo, I am sure our experience in the end will turn out soaring like this mountain range. However, I just wanted to share a little more on this subject, and it gives me a reason to use PowerPoint, which i miss and used to be really good at 🙂