When that shop assistant told me to Google culture shock, I’m sure I did, but I don’t remember a thing I read, neither have I written anything about it in my journal. Thats a puzzle to me and unlike what I normally do. I read to figure things out and record my thoughts.
I probably read that the definition of culture shock is “The feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.” It may be experienced due to immigration or a visit to a different country, a move between social environments or simply travel to another type of life.” But I don’t remember being helped by any words about it.
Culture shock is a type of transition shock. Its a predictable state of loss and disorientation caused by a change in a person’s familiar environment that requires adjustment. Completely understandable when you read back a few years later from the comfort of the familiar place, but when, without warning you suddenly lose sense of yourself and the reality of the country you thought you knew, no written words will enlighten your rational mind.
It has degrees of severity, different effects and time spans but the most commonly experienced symptoms are as follows:-
- Sadness and loneliness
- Over concern about your health
- Headache, pains, allergies
- Anger, depression, vulnerability
- Idealizing your own culture
- Trying too hard to adapt by becoming obsessed with the new culture
- Feeling insecure and shy
- Feeling lost and confused
- Clinging to everything familiar by the need to email/phone home
- Compulsive eating/drinking
In the first few months and beyond of arriving in Aurukun I experienced all of the above and it was only a stranger behind a shop counter who thought to tell me about it. There’s a lot of helpful information on the internet but being aware of, and prepared for, culture shock would be the most help. The problem is that it’s an overwhelming reaction that once you’re experiencing it is difficult to get perspective. I’ve just found an on-line cultural competency course from “Unite For Sight” a US charity organisation. It gives the following helpful advice to dealing with cultural shock:-
- Pursue information gathering
- Look for logic in your new surroundings
- Make sense of the environment
- Use wisdom and patience
- Use humour (A big help!)
- Have faith in yourself (what you’re feeling is normal!)
- Don’t pity yourself
- Stay mentally, physically and socially active
- Get enough rest
- Eat a balance diet
- Take reasonable risks (go exploring safely)
- Ask for help
- Use friends and family as emotional supports
Thinking about all this five years later I look back over my life and recognise a few times of transition when I’ve experienced a sense of dislocation, moving interstate with my family as a teenager, staying at home with small babies after I married in my early 20s and returning to a hospital to do my nursing training in my 30s are the main times that come to mind. But beginning life as a remote area nurse was by far the most overwhelming and has taken the longest to come to terms with. In lots of ways I’m still dealing with culture shock.