Peeling Back the Layers of Culture Shock by Raymond Knight
While conducting my research for this assignment, I remember thinking that acclimating to this new environment would be a breeze – that I would hit the ground running and adjust with a quickness, from the giddyup. After all, I have lived all over these united states, and through the years visited over a dozen nations. I have experienced so many different places, studied many diverse layers of culture and different ways of living, and have become accustomed to frequently adjusting to changing circumstances.
However, months into my service year in Montana, I began experiencing different thought energies and sensations within my spirit, mind and body. In short, I began noticing a sense of unreality coupled with feelings of uncertainty, confusion, anxiety and even a bit of impostor syndrome. However, not fully understanding what was going on, I simply dismissed such impulses and feelings.
After attending several conferences and symposiums with fellow service members and hearing their stories, I began to see commonalities. Many of my fellow colleagues expressed aspects of what I too was experiencing. In their admissions, I found a connection, continuity and commonality of our shared realities as agents of change.
This motivated me to conduct general research which eventually led me to a vague, interpersonal, subjective phenomenon known as culture shock. Quite frankly, I was shocked to learn that the underlying culprit of much of what I was experiencing was, more than likely, a good old-fashioned case of culture shock. It never dawned on me that I would even be addressing this topic during my assignment.
The research suggests that no singular event absolutely causes culture shock. Accordingly, culture shock can show up in a person’s life due to factors ranging from moving to a new city, different part of a country, moving to or even vacationing in a new country, a move between socio-economic environments, or even simply transitioning to a cultural environment which is different from one’s own.
The phenomenology of it is very subjective and influenced by whatever one’s individual life experiences and mind-set are. It’s more a matter of encountering different ways of doing things, being cut off from personal behavioral cues, having your own values brought into question, and feeling you don’t know the rules which tend to be the most important contributors.
The symptomatology of culture shock can manifest itself in a wide variety of ways ranging from personal disorientation, or a sense of disconnect with symptoms ranging from fatigue, doubt, frustration, irritability, depression, feeling lost or out of place, and even homesickness to name a few. It can affect anyone at any age. Generally, culture shock can gradually assert itself within anyone at any time under certain conditions such as when an:
individual leaves the comfort of their home and familiar surroundings and moves to an unfamiliar environment.
individual is keenly aware that the two locations are completely different (e.g., such as a move from a small rural area to a large metropolis or vice versa, or moving to another country, etc.).
individual feels cut off from familiar life methods, realities, surroundings and/or culture after moving or traveling to a new environment.
It’s important to note however, that one need not experience every single symptom or trait described in the literature to be experiencing culture shock.
This research prompted me to peel back and examine layers of my own history and background leading to one important question. How could someone with my background and experience be going through any sort of culture shock? The answer I found was quite clear. In a sense it was my ignorance of it, dismissive attitude towards it, over-reliance on my personal and travel history and study of various cultures which, in the end, rendered me more susceptible to some of the turbulence associated with culture shock. In short, it was the fact that I thought it couldn’t happen to me that made me all the more vulnerable to certain aspects of it.
The one glaring reality for anyone dealing with this issue is that there is HOPE. According to the research, a cultural adjustment, such as this, is normal and simply results from being in an unfamiliar environment. As time moves forward and we gradually become more familiar with, comfortable in and “at home” with our new environment we become better able to experience and enjoy our new setting. This research effort has been invaluable.
As per my review of this issue, I have adopted a 6-step self-care plan moving forward which, in no particular order, includes:
1) striving to remain open-minded (willing and actively learning about my new surroundings and culture).
2) continuing my daily meditation and journaling practices focusing particularly on the positive aspects of my experiences.
3) not taking things personally – retaining a nonjudgmental attitude; practicing the art of understanding and forgiveness; realizing that some of the people I will meet may also be experiencing/reacting through their own type of culture shock.
4) being sure to take breaks, go outside, socialize — remain active, engaged, and interested in getting to know the locals.
5) being kind, patient and honest with myself and what I may be feeling or experiencing.
6) remembering or reacquainting myself with my life’s mission, purpose, and reason for serving (the reason I am out here) – to contribute in my own small way towards making the world a better place.
When it comes to culture shock, I was forced to remember one of my earliest life lessons – all things are transitory. Things come and go and this is also true with culture shock.
Fortunately, while serving and conducting my personal research, I had already begun making the types of significant contributions as a service member which moved me from merely being desirable as an add-on to becoming an essential contributor.
At present, my service can now be seen as the assignment which opened the door for AmeriCorps members to serve on the Miles Community College campus, the pivotal moment when AmeriCorps and Montana Campus Compact first collaborated to set up and carry out both 9/11 and MLK Day of Service events in the history of this small town, a successful campus career center was established which serves students and launched an eponymous quarterly newsletter, and the event which was the first time some students and locals got to meet and interact closely with a professional who happens to be a Black man.
In remembering and reacquainting myself with all aspects of my life’s mission and purpose, I acknowledge that volunteering is a natural process that is important to me and that this assignment is special. Apart from enhancing my sense of connection to humanity, serving in general is more an extension of my gratitude and desire to give back more than anything else. The act of serving others is personally satisfying and transformational, allowing me to become a better person with a deeper level of respect, and better awareness of situations, conditions or in this case, bucolic needs which are normally outside of my perceptual experiences.
Yes. With its population calculated at 86.3% white, 6.2% Native American, and 3.7% Hispanic, I couldn’t think of a better, more challenging place to serve when it comes to the practices of seeking as well as providing understanding, searching for common ground, getting things done, and growing as an individual.
Being here offers so many opportunities to share stories from my large, east coast bred, synthetic, hyperactive, urbanized culture with individuals from a small, westernized, organic, ruggedly individualistic, subdued and somewhat xenophobic bucolic town culture.
Ultimately, being here allows me to shatter stereotypes, while making positive contributions to situations in need of direct intervention and/or improvement.