An Australian instructor of mine once asked me what my definition of culture shock was. I said, “Its one of your first few experiences outside of the US, its when you may not feel safe or comfortable, but you like it, there’s a feeling that things are different, but you maybe understand that that is the way things are supposed to be, different from the culture you were raised with, yet it makes sense, almost like a fragment of a rebirth.” I then gave many examples: like eating foods that are packaged without nutrition facts, or riding public transportation that is about ten times over safety capacity, or watching people live their lives while being true to themselves, not trying to “keep up with the Jones’.”
He took in what I said, nodded, and then preceded with his rendition. “Ive lived in Colombia for 9 years, my first idea of culture shock came to me after about 2 ½ years in Colombia. All of my toiletries I brought with me were gone, all of my new products had Spanish writing on them, and all of my clothes no longer fit me or were replaced by new articles. Then, one day I was walking to class, and I realized I had no money in my pocket for a taxi, I had a hole in my shoe, and my toe was poking out because I had a hole in my sock, too. I was dreaming in Spanish. I had no friends who knew my family, or who I was before I arrived here. I was hardly making any money, and at that point I realized I was no longer an Australian, I was no longer living at a western standard of living. It hit me like a ton of bricks. To me, that was culture shock.”
After hearing his words, I could understand what he was saying. Culture shock is different for everybody. For me it was a breakthrough experience, but his experience was at even a higher level. For me it was about understanding that new cultures and ways of life exist. Some are rational, or more beautiful, others not so much. For him, it was understanding that you could completely lose your identity, and yourself, and grow new skin. Either way, it’s the point when you come to the realization that something has changed within. It tickles you, scares you, and intrigues you at the same time. Its understanding that you once lived in a bubble.