Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ugh, I Am A Stereotype - by Christopher

I need to start with Wikipedia's phases of culture shock:

Phases of culture shock

The shock (of moving to a foreign country) often consists of distinct phases, though not everyone passes through these phases and not everyone is in the new culture long enough to pass through all three[1]:
  • Honeymoon Phase - During this period the differences between the old and new culture are seen in a romantic light, wonderful and new. For example, in moving to a new country, an individual might love the new foods, the pace of the life, the people's habits, the buildings and so on.
  • Negotiation Phase - After some time (usually weeks), differences between the old and new culture become apparent and may create anxiety. One may long for food the way it is prepared in one's native country, may find the pace of life too fast or slow, may find the people's habits annoying, disgusting, and irritating etc. This phase is often marked by mood swings caused by minor issues or without apparent reason. Depression is not uncommon.
  • Adjustment Phase - Again, after some time (usually 6 - 12 months), one grows accustomed to the new culture and develops routines. One knows what to expect in most situations and the host country no longer feels all that new. One becomes concerned with basic living again, and things become more "normal".
  • Reverse Culture Shock (a.k.a. Re-entry Shock) - Returning to one's home culture after growing accustomed to a new one can produce the same effects as described above, which an affected person often finds more surprising and difficult to deal with as the original culture shock.

There are three basic outcomes of the Adjustment Phase:

  • Some people find it impossible to accept the foreign culture and integrate. They isolate themselves from the host country's environment, which they come to perceive as hostile, withdraw into a ghetto and see return to their own culture as the only way out. These Rejectors also have the greatest problems re-integrating back home after return. Approx. 60% of expatriates behave in this way.
  • Some people integrate fully and take on all parts of the host culture while losing their original identity. They normally remain in the host country forever. Approx. 10% of expatriates belong to this group of Adopters.
  • Some people manage to adapt the aspects of the host culture they see as positive, while keeping some of their own and creating their unique blend. They have no major problems returning home or relocating elsewhere. Approx. 30% of expatriates are these so-called Cosmopolitans.
According to this definition, I should be entering the Adjustment Phase in the next couple of months. Which means I am currently in the (understatement of understatements) Negotiation Phase.

Negotiations aren't going well today.

My body can't sleep at night. I ate lunch in the cafeteria and could barely choke down the freezing vegetables and lump of mystery meat. We have a living room piled with American products, items I've longed for, and all I want to do is pack them up and take them home.

For two days the sky has produced a cold, morbid dribble. Another one of our workmates and her husband have quit the school and moved home. This apartment is barely more than a hole in a poorly constructed wall.

The graduate program is good, but pointless. A master's in curriculum and instruction won't improve my career prospects too much. And I've fallen behind in my studies over the holiday. I was too busy enjoying myself.

I don't know what any of these strangers are saying. I can't read the most basic instructions. Meanwhile, all of our friends back home are either reproducing themselves or enjoying their charming pets.

The demands of the school are ridiculous. We aren't saving as much as we wanted to. It's cheaper to fly to Japan from Dallas than it is from here. Everything we buy here breaks.

There is no Mexican food.

Now is the part when I am supposed to pluck the good from the bad, find the silver lining, squeeze the lemons into pulpy goo for you. And for me. And for my wife. But I can't today.

Because, as you will note in the negotiation phase above, I am experiencing mood swings caused by minor issues. And some not-uncommon depression. The knowledge that I am transitioning through a normal phase should probably make me feel better, not worse.

Ah, but that is not the case. Instead I am embarrassed for being such a cookie-cutter stereotype of a person. I thought I got off the assembly line of life when I moved away, but I only climbed on a different one. Knowing that a billion people have felt this way doesn't help one iota.

What the hell is an iota?

Again, from the Oracle of Wiki:

Common English phrase

The word is used in a common English phrase, 'not one iota of difference', to signify a meaningless distinction (lit. "not even a small difference"). The phrase derives from the introduction to the Antithesis of the Law in the Gospel of Matthew (a jot or a tittle), and became common in the theological debate which caused the convening of the First Council of Nicaea, regarding the nature of the Holy Trinity. The argument centered on which of two alternative Greek words, differing only in a single 'iota' letter, should be used in describing Jesus' relationship to the Holy Trinity. One word, 'homoousios', would mean that Jesus was of the same substance as God the Father, and the other 'homoiousios', would mean that Jesus was of similar substance. This distinction separated the Arians, who believed the latter, from the main body of Christianity, and led to their ultimate condemnation as heretics.

You could have given me the rest of my life to try and I never could have guessed that one. At least I managed to introduce the word 'tittle' into the blog.

I'm going to do my best to take what small victories I can until Negotiations conclude successfully.

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