Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about “culture shock.” I put this in quotes because our perfect traveler’s definition of what culture shock is may not actually describe the true concept.
I think it’s pretty safe to assume that most of us would consider “culture shock” to be a state of being induced by strange and unknown aspects of another culture including food, language, dress, and social norms. However, what I’ve come to realize through a series of recent events is that the culture itself may not be that which “shocks” us. Anything unexpected that happens to us, that would put us out of our comfort zones even in our native countries, is, I think, a culture shock. It is the simple fact that we are in a different environment that makes us put the blame of an uncomfortable situation on the culture.
We are not fools. Obviously, going to another country, we fully expect a different language, style of dress, mode of transportation, food – but we fail to realize that the instant we are put in an unsettling position is the instant we are truly immersed in a different culture. Because, unlike in our home countries, we are unable to go home and talk to our parents, or lay in our own beds, or spend a few hours in our own rooms. We have to push through the difficult moments and continue on as strangers living in a different world. This, I think, is what culture shock is. The continuation of a life in a different culture not because of the differences, but despite the uncomfortable moments that truly locate us in a position of culture shock.