India and Japan, to me are the 2 extremes in terms of Cultures. I was well aware there would be a transition before I adapt to my new environment. This transition is called “Culture Shock”. Fortunately my Irish sending Organization (EIL, Experiment in International Living) have a fabulous pre-departure book with exercises to make you think of the issues you might have once abroad, and even more important, how you might react to those situations, and some advice on dos & don’ts.
Culture shock can be described as a stress, anxiety due to a new environment. Of course, it is a very personal experience but most of the time common feelings of loneliness, homesickness, uneasiness, being overwhelmed, being irritable, arise. The picture of a fish out of the water is often used to refer to Culture Shock, which I think is quite appropriate.
And how we react to it, is a learning process and adaptation to the new environment.
We generally say there are 3 main phases to Culture shock, and call it the “U curve” process:
- Honeymoon: the excitement of a new experience…
- Culture shock: the stress of unfamiliar situations, new codes of communication…
- Cultural adjustment: benefit of the immersion in a new culture and growing from this experience…
One of the things that have affected me was the lack of sleep due to the humid and hot weather at night…I was finally falling asleep early morning when it was time for me to get up and teach in the slums… But just thinking that the day ahead, I would learn something new, a word, a tradition, a culture fact, or meet new people…helped a lot in the process and gave me the energy to keep going.
Every day I remembered why I was there, my initial passion for India, I had finally made it possible for me to realize my dream and had to make the most of every minute of this experience abroad!
I was also surrounded by wonderful people helping me and giving me the keys to their culture, always happy to share things with me and who made me understand how it worked, how Indian people thought…..which made the experience even more enjoyable. I will eternally be grateful to those people (you know who you are 😉 ). I have learnt so much during my stay in that country, and have come to see the world with their eyes too. There are things I don’t necessarily agree with, but that I can understand where it comes from and sometimes it can me much more complicated that it seems, from occidental eyes. Such an experience teaches you to see the World with different eyes.
Then of course, the return back home is another experience that can be quite difficult. It is called the “W-curve” process (the above described process + return back home…).
Things have happened back home which we have not fully experienced with relatives, changes have happened…and we need to readjust to those changes, and settle again in our environment. It can sometimes be a long process too!
When I came back from India, I started working (a week after landing home) for an oil company in Geneva, Switzerland, where there is a lot of money involved, big parties, 2 week days spent in Chamonix with a group of colleagues skiing, a Jacuzzi in the chalet…and I found it quite difficult to switch from the Indian slums…to that.