Thursday, March 19, 2009

Culture Shock Stage 2: Hostility

Yes.... as much as we'd like to pretend that it's not happening to us... we can't deny it: Culture shock is rearing its ugly head.

As you probably know, culture shock refers to the difficulty people have adjusting to life in a new country. What you may not be familiar with is the fact that there are multiple stages of culture shock; it is quite a complex phenomenon. Here's a little excerpt from the
Wikipedia entry just to give you an idea of what I'm talking about:


The 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

  • 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".


Well we're definitely through with the honeymoon phase and definitely not into the adjustment phase, so where does that leave us? The "Negotiation Phase" as Wikipedia calls it, or what others call the "hostility phase."

Earlier this month, Nick and I had our first encounter with this stage of culture shock.... it was pretty ugly. We were rejecting the culture (especially Nick, with regards to education philosophy) - staying up late into the night to discuss it, basically coming to the conclusion that our way is better - and were both highly irritable.

It did help us, though, to spend some time reading about culture shock on the Internet. We were able to understand that what we were going through is normal and come to terms with that. After a day or two, the hostility passed.

For the most part, things are good. We're generally happy to accept the challenges that daily life in Taiwan brings, but there are moments - minutes, hours, days - that we feel irritable, angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, and in general ill-at-ease. There's really nothing we can do about it except accept it for what it is, hope to grow from it, and not let it get the best of us.

It's a bit of an emotional roller coaster and does sometimes feel like self-induced torture - we were the ones who chose to quit our jobs and move around the world to a country with a completely foreign language and culture - but even when I'm feeling the lowest, I try not to loose sight of the fact that this is really a cool thing that we're doing. It is giving us a really great opportunity for personal growth and introspection as well as a chance to expand our world views and strengthen our relationship.

I have to admit... this week was a tough one for me. It was BUSY BUSY BUSY (we bought our scooters this week, pictures to follow!) and between school, work, and the logistics of registering our scooters, I have barely had time to breathe. That combined with the language barrier and the stress of everyday life and I was at my wits-end by the time I got out of work tonight. But, it's the weekend, and I am already feeling renewed.

So, here's hoping that next week is better.