Sunday, September 27, 2020

Dealing with cultural shock

Almost everyone leaving their home countries to study, work and live in other parts of the world experience cultural shock and it is often experienced differently by the individuals, at different times and to different degrees. Mostly affected are missionaries, refugees and foreign students.

Cultural shock is defined as a psychological disorientation that most people experience when living in a culture markedly different from one’s own. It often occurs when our “cultural cues, the signs and symbols which guide social interaction, are stripped away”.

According to the ‘free encyclopaedia, it also refers to “the anxiety and feelings of surprise, disorientation, uncertainty and confusion felt when people have to operate in a different and unknown cultural or social environment such as a foreign country.

It grows out of the difficulties in assimilating the new culture, causing difficulty in knowing what is appropriate and what is not”.

Though at first, one may be excited about going to that certain country and starting a new adventure, it doesn’t last long for many. When you first arrive, everything will appear new and exciting but as soon as you start to settle down, you start realizing that a lot is amiss.

All or most of their familiar cues such as words, gestures, facial expressions, customs, or norms acquired by all of us in the course of growing up and are as much a part of our culture as the language we speak or the beliefs we accept are removed. He or she is like a fish out of water. No matter how open-minded or full of good will he may be, a series of props have been knocked from under him.

This is usually followed by feelings of frustration, anxiety, homesickness, withdrawal, excessive sleeping, boredom and irritation.

The shock of moving to a foreign country also 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 stages. Firstly is the honeymoon stage, 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. The new arrival may feel joyful and be pleased by all of the new things encountered. This time is called the “honeymoon” stage, as everything encountered is new and exciting.

After some time, 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. This phase is often marked by mood swings caused by minor issues or without apparent reason.

Again, after some time, one grows accustomed to the new culture and develops routines. They now start to know what to expect in most situations and the host country no longer feels all that new. They become concerned with basic living again, and things become more “normal”.

Ewetse Phineas, a Motswana student studying at Namibia noted that cultural shock really hits one hard. She explained that in her case, the first thing she ever felt was the communication barrier between them as Batswana and the host nationals. “The people here speak Afrikaans and sometimes you even find that they don’t know nor understand English. So it is really tough in trying to converse with them,” she said.

She further said that there is a lot of tribalism among the hosts and that also makes it difficult for them to socialise with them comfortably. “This in the end leads to boredom and irritation because you wonder how you are supposed to fit in when the hosts themselves don’t get along well.
At times you really feel homesick and for some people they end up drinking and grooving too much to shift away all these feelings,” Phineas added. She further said that most of Batswana that side don’t really associate with Namibians.

“I have accepted the situation that I am in a foreign country and have tried to establish the relationships with them by mingling with them and more luckily that there are different foreigners who have reached out to them because we are in the same boat. She said that they have also made friends with other foreigners and “this side Batswana gets along with Zimbabweans and Zambians mostly,” she said.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.