Culture shock. The term implies an immediate reaction to new surroundings. It evokes the thought of being dropped off in a new place with every part of the culture whirling at you from all sides while you just soak it all up and try not to be misunderstood in your own home customs. While it feels like this sometimes, culture shock is actually a longer term, developmental mindset of shock that can often leave travelers feeling…well…depressed.
No, I am not really depressed. I’m a lucky girl to have been given the opportunities I have and I am so thankful, but that doesn’t make me an exception to the stages of culture shock. There are four stages and withdrawal and confusion is certainly one of them and I would feel like I cheated my readers if I didn’t let them know about it. If you are a traveler, have traveled before, or plan to travel, this information will be relevant to you. I feel like culture shock binds we travelers together.
The first stage of culture shock is excitement. It’s like the ‘honeymoon’ period of your adventure. Everything is amazing. The food is delicious. The people are cool. The language is beautiful. The sights are breathtaking. The weather is heaven and nothing could ever be better than where you are right here, right now. This is the life, and nothing can ever change that. You could live here forever, and you seriously consider it more than once.
But then you realize that the food gives you diarrhea and you forgot to bring Immodium. The people have weird jokes, often made at you. The language sounds like alien babble and the words all run together, leaving you confused and misinterpreted, only leading to more jokes about you. The amazement you once felt at the sights turns to disgust at the smell of trash in the streets and watching children beg for money. It’s so damn hot that you lose 5 pounds every time you step outside and sweat your body weight in perspiration. You start to miss your home, your friends, even your job. Congratulations, you’ve entered into the second phase of culture shock. Withdrawal.
It’s not that I don’t love Brazil. I do. I loved it enough to figure out a way to come back again. I thought I would be immune to culture shock, having been here before. I was so wrong. I’m in withdrawal. I’m experiencing culture shock. I miss my mom (hi mom!). I miss my dad. I miss my brother and my nephew and I miss my dog. Let’s not even get started on the lack of English-speaking friends I have here. I even miss my job. That’s when you know you’re really in withdrawal, when you miss something you normally dread.
I know that the next phases of culture shock will leave me feeling much better. The adjustment period and then finally feeling truly at home will come, but by that point it will be time for me to leave and go back to my real life. How does this change a traveler? Well, it makes them appreciate their home so much more, but it also makes them realize how lucky they are to have experienced the withdrawal, the jokes, the misinterpretations, the loneliness…because it lets you know you are strong. Not everyone is brave enough to leave their home for something unexpected and wild. But if you’re a traveler, you are brave enough. You did it, can do it, and will do it. I hope other travelers who stumble upon this will find comfort in that. Once you go back home, you’ll be a stronger person, a better person, and more experienced about the world. Traveling makes you realize that you’re not just an American, or whatever nationality you may be, but you’re a citizen of the world. And when you realize that, you’re on your way to using your talents to make this world a better place.