Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, July 10, 2008

By Adnan M. S. Fakir and Janet Alexander

Sincerely speaking, it's excruciating sad how fast time seems to chop and dine on our lifeline. The lot of you giving your confounded O/AS/A level exams right now won't probably agree with me, but trust me; time will stab you in your back one time or another. Keeping the scrutiny aside, with the end of the term many of you will be going abroad pretty soon for your higher studies (for both academic and 'non-academic' purposes) and I presume that by now you have already heard the term “culture shock” persistently knocking on your door. If not, you'll definitely hear its impolite accent very soon.

For a selected persistent few, culture shock can definitely be like being stuck on a constantly turned on 10,000 volts electric chair, while for some, it will be like an ant desperately trying to suck your blood with no avail. It's obviously very relative. By culture shock what is usually meant is the 'Intercultural Adjustment Cycle'; it really isn't a onetime thing but a more dynamic event which unconsciously changes if not you, a significant part of you. So, attempting to present an early discern to you folks, I teamed up with Janet Alexander, the (now retired) director of Office of International Student Services of Grinnell College, USA to provide you with a brief description of the general culture shock cycle, that many students going aboard encounters. Whether you'll face it or not is truly up to you, but it will certainly help in being aware.

1. Eager Expectation Stage. This is where you probably are right now, planning to enter the second culture. The excitement may be from the prospect of meeting (or more than just meeting) new hot girls/guys or simply gaining freedom from parents or just being able to be independent; but no matter how dormant, the excitement is there. At the same time you are leaving your loved ones behind and hence the anguish, making you simultaneously excited and wary. However, you face the future with optimism and excitement, silently screaming in your mind, “Hell Yeah! Here I come!”

2. Everything is Beautiful Stage. Even though the initial days and perhaps weeks can be very fatiguing and you may experience anxiety, when you arrive in the new culture, you feel a sense of excitement and anticipation and everything looks new and wonderful or at least quaint and interesting. Hunting down 'that hotness' can seem like an adventure. New and different types of food can seem like an experiment. Independence from family oversight can be initially exciting. Everyone seems so friendly, and you have worked so hard to get here (cursing the excruciating application process), that it feels wonderful to have finally arrived. This stage has been referred to by some cross-cultural experts as the “honeymoon stage”. The stage can last from a few weeks to several months.

3. Everything is Awful Stage. The honeymoon is over! You may feel tired, lonely, restless, disappointed, sick, depressed, impatient or angry (or all of these feelings in a single day!). You may be frustrated by the alien food and not knowing what people expect of you, of not knowing the “rules” of the society or of the classroom or of your relationships with others. You may be exhausted by the demands of a new and different kind of schedule, or even of having to manage everything by yourself. You miss having family and friends to talk to and to support you, and it may seem as though no-one around you really realizes how hard everything is… from learning to do your own laundry, to managing your own finances, to coping with your first job, your first roommate, the first class where you are expected to write monstrously long papers, or having to work collaboratively in a group you don't like, or participate in class with a professor like Snape from Potter land. In short, everything will suck! This stage may also last from several weeks to several months.

So what can you do about it? Reading about the new culture early on can help but only if you are able to be logical while in this stage. Sharing your feelings with friends, family or supportive faculty and staff at the college is also another triumph card, but not if you are an introvert. So let it out! It also helps to anticipate these feelings so that you can recognize that you are going through a predictable phase and that with time and support, things will definitely improve!

4. Everything is OK Stage. After several months or even a semester in the new culture, you may find you view what is happening around you in both negative and positive ways. Things seem more balanced. There are things you really like (like hot stuffs), things you have accommodated to (like going to classes), and things you will never like and will never adjust to (like eating corolla bhaji, yuk!). But you are not so exhausted by the daily routine and challenges and you feel you understand better what is expected of you. Without going into too much jargon, in short, you finally accept yourself and those around you. But wait! This is not the end!

5. Re-entry Stage: This stage is often the least anticipated. While you never think about it as such, going back home after a year of college can become another adjustment cycle accompanied by none other than another culture shock! Persons repatriating often assume that the adjustment will be negligible because they are already familiar with their home environment. You know the food (and have probably missed it a great great deal), and are looking forward to seeing your family and friends again feeling you know what to expect culturally. What you probably fail to grasp or are unable to anticipate is how much you have changed!

You are probably not the same person returning home. You may have adjusted to a faster pace of life, or are returning to one. You may have experienced a different perspective on racial or class differences, experienced deeper friendships or may have developed a heightened concern about ecology; you may now desire a more simple way of life, or have changed values in other ways. Your family and friends may be confused or frustrated by the changes they see in you, or they may not be as interested in hearing about the experiences you have had. The feelings that accompany the re-adjustments that are required are often similar to those experienced when the person first arrived in the new culture: discouragement, anger, fatigue, and a lost feeling accompanying a search for identity that was unexpected. But as always, with time things will heal up and you'll re-adjust.

A few Final Words: Do not, I repeat, DO NOT take this article as discouraging, but simply remember it as a potential warning that may or may not happen to you. Keep in mind that if you do go through this, there are also others in the same position. You are not alone, my dear! You will never be alone! Talk to people and take active steps to get out of this darned loophole. Give it some time and you will by no doubt escape from this circle of life. For now though, enjoy and p-a-r-t-a-y! “For now are the moments that you'll definitely cherish for life!”



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