Liar Liar: What is Culture Shock Like?

On December 10, 2013 by Bethany
Photo by Andrew Lamb

Photo by Andrew Lamb

Maybe you’ve been on a mission trip, studied abroad, been an au-pair in France. Or maybe you’ve never left the comfort of your birth-state, I’m not sure. Either way, if you’ve ever spent time in a foreign culture, you’ve probably noticed transitioning back and forth can be difficult. One thing people ask us very often is about this transition. One sweet woman in particular asked us about culture shock and what it feels like.

culture shock

noun: a state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange, or foreign social and cultural environment.

I’m certainly not an expert on exactly what culture shock is for everyone, but for me it usually goes something like this…

This is from my journal on August 13th, 2013:

 I hate the feeling. The feeling that no one in this world could possibly understand or love me for the way I feel right now. No one could have possibly ever been through this, right?

There is no reason for school, no reason for homework. No reason to sit in this theatre and listen to an old man go on and on about the “absolute necessity” to spend billions of dollars on space exploration. All I can think of is not screaming into the auditorium filled with applause, “you have it all wrong!”

All I can think of is the face of that baby with scarlet fever. The tiny hands that fill mine on a community walk. The mother in need of food for her child. The whole world in need of help. And here we are, clapping for a man who spent enough money on one trip to space to feed the whole world. 

When you lose your breath with the realization that the faucet water is drinkable.

When your heart skips a beat hearing your second language being spoken.

The fear of going back to school, that you won’t be fulfilled by a degree.

The tightening up of your throat when you hear someone talk about missions in your host country.

The sting of tears in your eyes as you lose yourself in a moment of memories.

When you break down in the middle of a fancy restaurant because of portion sizes. (Hello, America.)

The nausea that overthrows you when someone complains about something frivolous.

The discouragement of someone not even knowing you were gone.

When you open the door to your bedroom and it doesn’t feel like home.

When the thought of going to Walmart makes you overwhelmed.

When you can’t sleep at night because its too quiet.

The exhaustion you feel after trying to explain the way you feel.

The hollow in your gut that scares you into thinking you’ll never be able to.

That would be a start. 

What I’ve learned through making this transition time and time again is this: you get used to it. Maybe not completely, but in time, you become aware of the emotions you’ll face upon arrival. You’ll take notice of what is the hardest for you to handle. You’ll find a routine, figure out what works and begin to overcome. But either way, it’s worth it all.

What about you? What are the moments that make transitioning to and from a foreign culture difficult for you?

Check back for my next post about culture shock – Liar Liar: How does Culture Shock end?

– Bethany

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