Thursday, July 30, 2009

Culture Shock

Culture shock is a fascinating experience. After living in France for approximating nine months, I imagined my transition back to America to be much harsher than it actually was. On the other hand, instead of throwing myself back into a quaint city such as Petoskey (which is located in Michigan), I chose New York City. Over the last two weeks, I have quickly discovered highly populated and culturally diverse cities such as New York, Boston, Miami, L.A. and Washington D.C. are perfect pit stops for world travelers. Travelers are able to transition back to their "old lives" - a phrase for which I use loosely since the lives of most travelers change dramatically for every country visited - without seeming as though they traveled to Saturn and popped back to Earth for a wee visit.

By definition, culture shock refers to the anxiety and feelings of uncertainty and disorientation people feel when adapting to an unknown social environment - a.k.a, a foreign country. Europeans, though as much as they would emphatically disagree, are similar to North Americans in regards to expectations and life interests. Obviously, there are differences between these two continents. But point being, culturally speaking and based on my own experiences, there are more similarities than differences between Europeans and North Americans than let's say...North Americans and Asians. Quite different in fact.

I recently returned from a two-month internship with the Shanghai Business Review, in China, and my utter fascination with attempting to understand the world has increased dramatically. It seems silly to think a two-month venture would make such an impact on my life, but in fact, it has in more ways than one - spiritually, physically, emotionally, etc. My transition back to the U.S. was slightly different this time around - and by slightly, I mean completely. At first glance, returning to my university town could not have been a better idea. Mount Pleasant, Michigan, is quiet in the summertime, the air is fresh, and it has just been a blessing to be around friends. Contrarily, after having spent 60 days in Shanghai - a city with roughly 16 million people, pollution, language barriers and just general culture differences - I would say I am going through re-culture shock. It is a new discovery, not a particularly great one, but new nonetheless. As previously mentioned, I have been home for roughly two weeks and the realization of this re-culture shock just hit me today. I am astounded to find myself out of place in a country I have lived in for 22 years, with family and friends I know and love.
Deep down, I know this experience will challenge me and allow me to grow - I just hope my friends and loved ones will be patient with me as I adjust, which I am sure they will.

Overall, culture shock exists in us all and there is no preparation for it. It comes randomly, and we must trust in ourselves, family and friends to help us through such an endeavor. I would like to encourage fellow travelers to continuing experiencing the glory of discovering other cultures and to not let culture shock, or re-culture shock, hinder any prospects. Traveling is too great to quit. Peace to all!

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The Great Wall

The Great Wall
Beijing, China