Culture shock can be defined as “a state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange, or foreign social and cultural environment”. Were you aware that this could also be experienced when returning into your familiar social culture after being absent for a period of time? This could be as short as four months, and that is where my story begins.
Four months of my summer vacation was spent in Xiaolan, Zhongshan, China. I was an English teacher in a private school for student’s grades 1-4. Oddly enough, my greatest challenge was in fact returning back to Thunder Bay Ontario. After being absent for this period of time, my body and mind was used to a specific way of life and returning back into my own lifestyle was not easy for me.
The disgusting cold weather aside, I was in fact not used to being surrounded by so many people of the same race as I was. When I got back I refused to drive, work and even leave my house.
I remember my first day back, my parents and my sister had come to the airport in Minneapolis to pick me up. I am not sure if it was the fact that I just flew for 22 hours and was extremely exhausted, but as soon as I got off that plane and into my parents loving open arms I felt anxious and very upset so I began to cry. I cried so much one of my eyes remained red for 2 days following this. It was very embarrassing. After I got myself together I started to feel comfortable with my family again and began to tell them my tales of my over sea adventure.
The following day my sister wanted to do some shopping before we went home. As soon as I entered the mall my heart began to race. I felt scared and worried, but for no reason at all. I couldn’t spend more then 5 minutes in a store without having a minor panic attack. My heart was beating a million miles an hour; I could feel it pounding inside my chest trying to escape. After spending a few hours inside this terrifying atmosphere my sister was finally ready to retire.
Finally getting home I felt more relaxed. I was very comfortable on my couch in my living room for a number of days before my parents were fed up I wasn’t leaving the house. One day I decided to venture out. I got into my car and sat for what felt like hours staring at my steering wheel. The familiar heart pounding in my chest began and would not let me drive. So I gave up. Eventually, I over came this fear and drove little bits at a time to get used to it, and now feel comfortable driving.
The time change was exactly 12 hours ahead. So coming back home my days and nights were completely backwards. You can imagine my life for the first few days back short days and long nights. It sucked. Getting back into my natural way of life was very difficult as well as stressful for me. The thing that scares me the most is that I was only gone for four months! It is scary to imagine the distress that comes from being away from six months or even years.
Needless to say, I was not expecting to be so greatly affected by this change of society coming home. I think my excitement and interest in going there in the first place protected me from the culture shock of China, but when I returned home my the excitement and interest had run dry.
You can never expect something to happen until it has happened to you. The degree of this “culture shock” can vary and some people who are lucky enough don’t even experience it. This fear and culture shock made me a stronger person and I am glad to have experienced it, and glad to have accomplished something so important to me.