10 July, 2016

Culture shock

culture shock (noun)

the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.

DEFINITION of 'Culture Shock'

A feeling of uncertainty, confusion or anxiety that people experience when visiting, doing business in or living in a society that is different from their own. Culture shock can arise from a person's unfamiliarity with local customs, language and acceptable behavior, since norms can vary significantly across cultures.

Recently I did an amazing amount of travelling in (for me) a very short period of time. In seven weeks, I traveled to Amsterdam, Montreal (also Ste. Lucie and Warkworth), Addis Ababa, and Bielefeld and Kiel in Germany. The trips to Amsterdam and Montreal were working holidays. The trips to Addis, Bielefeld, and Kiel were work.

My travels took me from the idyllic surroundings of Ste. Lucie in the Laurentiens mountains north of Montreal. A week spent in nature. A week when I could mix working on my laptop with the pleasure of kayaking every day with the loons swimming right next to me; sitting still and listening to a symphony of frogs. A place where there was no human-made sounds to be heard.

And then in contrast, Addis Ababa… a city steeped in noise and busy-ness and chaos, like I have never experienced before. Admittedly, in the last 20 years or so, I have been mostly travelling in Europe and North America and the Caribbean. Working in Addis allowed me to meet some wonderful people and a new culture that was intensely interesting. (The first visit of many, hopefully.)

Amsterdam was visiting old friends in my most favourite city in the world. Warkworth was meeting new friends in, what seemed to me, a beautiful small town (village) setting from the past.

Even though all the trips went well and I had a fun time, I did experience what I can only describe as culture shock of sorts each time. I say culture shock of sorts because what I experienced was very different to that described in dictionaries. Mine appears on a physiological and sensory level.

My brain goes on overload trying to process the signals my senses are sending it. What is it that I am tasting, smelling, hearing, seeing and feeling (e.g. feeling cold the whole time in Addis because I didn’t bring enough warm clothing). There were numerous times when I questioned my old brain's ability to sort out all this information. Is this a problem a part of growing old?

In younger years, I seemed to be blissfully oblivious to this challenge. Now the first hours, days, or week spent in a new place is not just “getting over” jetlag or a general feeling of disorientation, but recognizing if and when my brain just doesn’t know how to process the information flow.

Why this is, is something I am going to meditate on these next few weeks. Thankfully, I can do this from the luxury and familiarity of my home.

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