Sunday, January 11, 2009

Culture shock

Not from Around Here pointed me in the direction of an excellent post on depression and culture shock on An American Bedu's blog. The post itself is interesting, the comments even more so. Culture shock is so much more complicated than many people realize. Many people think it goes away if you live long enough in the 'foreign' culture, but that's not always true. Some people never get over it and choose to go back home, as expat21 discussed recently on her blog. However, it's not true that returning 'home' will always be an improvement. There is truth in the saying "You can never go home" and reverse culture shock can be just as powerful as the regular kind!

Most of the 'graphs' of culture shock I've found online are based on the foreign-exchange student/temporary stay abroad experience rather than that of the immigrant:

16 comments:

Mmm said...

Excellent post adn links. It's true, you can never go back home. things change. I have adapeted but never quite, mainly that the change from inner London to big wide open and culturally void Colorado couldn't be bigger! but, yes, you adapt and you find what you love. then, going back, I can't get over the inefficiencies of UK and the red tape. It's so infuriating! :)

And you?

Susanna (A Modern Mother) said...

I hadn't seen any graphs before, very interesting.

I've been moving between the US and UK for the past 18 years, but our "home" is in the UK.

The weird thing is that when I am in the US I have mainly British friends (I guess that's the missing the culture bit) and when I'm in the UK I have mainly American friends.

Online is a mix, not sure what that means...

Thanks for the post.

NFAH said...

Really, the problem with the plot is the assumption that once you adapt it's flat--what they need to do is to re-create the "ups and downs" in the middle of the plot. Maybe the average is a pretty even baseline, but there are still so many ups and downs, so many good days and bad days. I think the other thing that people don't realize is that there's always this thought in the back of your mind when the going gets rough "oh well, I could always go home" which is not an option for most people when times get tough...

Thanks for the shout-out! NFAH

Vic said...

A surprisingly accurate graph, except I guess when we were out in Brasil we never really did the adaptation stage, we just went straight home. Funnily enough though, we're at the missing the other culture stage now, but the chances are adaptation will never come - being as we're from different sides of the ocean we'll probably never be content in either place.

Expat mum said...

One of the weirdest things, no matter how settled you become, is living without a frame of reference. You can't really talk about the TV shows you watched as a child because so many of them were different.

Mmm said...

Expat Mum brings up such a good point above too!

ExpatKat said...

Whenever I feel that I can't hack it any more, I remind myself that 'home' no longer exists in the way that I remember it (reverse culture shock). I've missed too much there now. I'm also very glad that my husband is a British expat too. We get to remember old tv shows together and are often the only ones that get each other's jokes too. That's priceless.

Almost American said...

Mmm - yes, that's a big gap between London & Colorado!

Susanna - I guess the friends from the other culture is part of your long-term adaptation. It used to be that I couldn't have cared less to have British friends here in the States, and now I quite like it.

NFAH - yes, the graphs are alwyas oversimplifications - and of course none of them ever seem to take into account the fact that people who never even leave their home town (let alone their country!) can live emotional roller-coasters. There have definitely been times in my life when the simplest thing to blame for my problems was Being Here rather than figuring out what was really wrong!

And Vic - yes, a lot of people skip certain stages of the graph. Some people move from initial infatuation with a culture right to adaptation without ever moving through the "I'm not so sure I rally like it" bit. And of course, lots of people never stay long enough to get to the adaptation phase.

Expat mum- I've taught DH about some of the shows I watched. He knows about Blue Peter, and has become a Dr Who fan. (Fortunately that one's still running, AND we get BBCAmerica.) There's a lot he has no clue about - Dave Allen, The Two Ronnies, Morecambe & Wise, The Liver Birds. (Actually, to be honest, even if we was English we'd have a gap in our TV show history as we're 7 years apart in age.)

ExpatKat - I remember my grandmother coming home to the UK after 18 years in South Africa and how things were always a little different for her - she never lost that perspective of having lived elsewhere. I've been in the US longer than she was in South Africa, so even if I returned home for good tomorrow I know what I'd be in for!

Expat said...

I think the same kind of missing back home can even happen when moving to a new place within the same country, leaving freinds behind. A new job helps, finding good doctors and dentists helps even more, and finding new friends helps most of all. Missing foods and things of back home take about 6-7 years to begin to adjust. It took me 15 years to adjust to the mosque calling out all night!

Expat 21, in the Middle East
"Expat Abroad"
expat21.wordpress.com

Almost American said...

Yes Expat 21, it can definitely happen when you're just moving from one part of a country to another - especially in a large country like the USA. I taught a cross-cultural communication class one time to a bunch of college professors who didn't understand that at first - they didn't think it was something they had to think about because they didn't have many 'foreign' students. By the end of the two day class though, they got it and realized that they needed to be more explicit about teaching the culture of their school in order to reduce the drop-out rate.

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

fascinating post and links. it's good to know one isn't alone. Or mad. The point the Saudi wife made about losing one's self esteem when one moves into anothe culture is one that knocked me sideways & I wasn't expecting at all, when we moved abroad. Feelign stupid & incompetent all the time. That reduces though as one stays longer in that culture.

Gill - That British Woman said...

that was interesting, I suppose you always want what you can't have. We have lived in Canada now for nearly 20 years, and I will always class Canada as home. It was driven home to us last year though when we went on vacation to Britain, that it is us that have cahnged not them.......we felt like strangers in the land where we grew up in.......

Gill in Canada, formerly from Britain

Bluestreak said...

thanks for the post and links. this is something i think about a lot and it's helpful to read others that go through it too. It's definitely something that is highly misunderstood and I identify a lot with not ever really being able to go home.

BackinSanJose said...

Part of cultural depression I think is realizing that you can never be, or do not want to be totally part of the dominant culture. There is always a part of you that is simply different and you may want to hold on to that difference even if it means always being somehow on the outside. Cultural shock though is when you go back "home" and realize that you are totally out of it there too. I guess that's why I tend to like people who struggle with feeling "at home" and are culture hopping.

Michelloui said...

Excellent post, and the graph was interesting even though as you say, the timeline is too short for some of us!!

As expat mum said, the frame of reference, or as I would say the shared cultural history is the biggest thing thats missing long term. Its a constant reminder of being the outsider. I get opportunities from time to time to get an idea of what my husband's childhood was like, which is good and nice and all that, such as when we watched The Damned United the other day, but what I miss about this exchange is that he gets very little opportunity to see what my childhood was like.

Oh well. It's all part of the expat experience, I guess!

Anonymous said...

Então fascinante este espaço está bem desenvolvido.........bom estilo:)
Amei faz mais posts deste modo !!

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