Why Do I Feel Like This? – Culture Shock
When you travel to a new country, or move to another part of your state or district, did you have any feelings of sadness, depression, loneliness, anxiety? Have you ever had that feeling that nobody understood your background? Did you have a hard time adjusting to your new surroundings, the new culture, the mannerisms of people?
I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone. You may have experienced something known as culture shock.
Culture shock, as defined by Dictionary.com, is “a state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange, or foreign social and culture environment”.
When you are exposed to new environments, especially when you’re traveling and have to stay for longer periods of time, it is not uncommon to experience a sense of anxiety, distress, loneliness, or bewilderment. Observing and processing languages, cultures, mannerisms, environments, even food that are different from what you’ve known your entire life is a huge transition to go through!
I know when I studied abroad in London, I was just amazed at the fact that I even made it there because it seemed like for years I couldn’t travel to London. I was in love with London, the wonderful accents of its people, and seeing the normal tourist attractions for the first couple of weeks!
However, that soon cam spiraling down. My friend experienced this culture shock first. I didn’t think much of it because I wasn’t experiencing the same feelings as her. At the time, I was so happy that my dream had finally come true, I was too elated to experience culture shock.
Three weeks after my arrival, that’s when culture shock hit me. That initial craze, excitement had gone, and I realized that this new country was now my home for the next 3 months. It was only when I started to interact with the locals and saw how they engaged with me, especially being American, that I started to feel very upset and alone.
I’m a New Yorker, and I know we’re known for not being the nicest people in the world and tend to just keep to ourselves and go on about our day. But being an American who likes to make small talk, smile, be open with others, and trying to do that with a person in London, didn’t go over too well. In my eyes at the time, it seemed like they were somewhat like New Yorkers in the sense that they didn’t have time or want to talk with others, but it still felt different because I wasn’t in New York.
Nobody really smiled at me, tried to be nice and ask how I was doing, or tried to be helpful when I needed it. If someone walked passed me and I said “good morning, how are you?”, they would just stare at me as if I was crazy. My friend and I would sit in a restaurant and wait forever for a waiter to come over, and when they did, it wasn’t the typical “American service” we were used to. Smiling, making small talk, being openly emotional, those are more American mannerisms and customs. I knew the culture, mannerisms, and etiquette was different in London but I just wasn’t prepared for just how different it was.
(I KNOW THIS DOESN’T DEFINE ALL PEOPLE IN LONDON AND I KNOW THE CULTURE IS DIFFERENT FROM AMERICA. I JUST PUT SOME OF THE SCENARIOS I ENCOUNTERED. MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCES DO NOT DEFINE EVERYONE IN LONDON AS I ALSO MET SOME SWEET PEOPLE WHILE OVER THERE)
That was just the people. I didn’t even get into the food, clothing, weather, housing, the vocabulary, and every other detail that was just shocking to me in London! It was all such a shock to my system. You could spend years dreaming about, learning, and understanding the culture of another place (just as I did). But when you’re physically in that location, and although you know that things are different, you can’t help but to notice the differences and start to feel so many things at once.
Thankfully, I met some amazing friends in London and they were one of the many ways I managed to stay sane and connected to my American roots while getting over my shock. It took me about a month to get over my culture shock, but once I did everything else fell into place.
It’s important to of course do your research so you’re better prepared for the experiences you may encounter, but it’ll never truly prepare you until you’re there in person. It’s also important to be aware of your own thoughts and feelings, and to find what it is that will help you get over your culture shock. I know it’s a lot easier said than done, but if you let your emotions and thoughts consume you (like it did for my friend) it’ll ruin your travel experience.
It’s ok and normal to experience culture shock. We’ve all experience it at some point in our lives. Whether you moved to a new town, state, or country, it is hard processing and adapting to new social and cultural environments. But also remember why you’re traveling, and try not to get bogged down! You won’t regret it!