I recall a conversation I had with my Gran recently,when I went to my childhood home. We had a great chat, and Gran told me tales of her dad. Back before technology, before TV and telephones in every home. Back when it was just face to face and written correspondence, my Great Grandfather packed up his young family, walked aboard a ship and sailed to the unknown wild Country called Australia. The furthest they could go away from their family. Away from that which is familiar and safe. To a new home, where language, customs, norms and societal values were different. Well to me that is the bravest move. With letter writing the primary way of communication it would take weeks upon weeks for a letter to arrive one-way.
I don’t think these days we really know isolation the way our forefathers did. We might feel emotional isolation, when we are going through something and no-one around us has had the experience to suitably empathise or understand. I understand the social isolation that this current world elicits, when we suffer depression, unemployment, homelessness. I’m talking here about that isolation from those closest to us, who we grew up with. When we make a big move away from that which is familiar. There is generally some way of communicating in a relatively quick way, via some means these days.
Friends have called us ‘brave’. I’m not sure that’s a label I’m happy to wear but you know, this ishard. Trying to figure out where to go, how to get things done is difficult in a foreign country. Yet here I am, sitting by the pool in our hotel on my iPad while the children swim with their dad. I have resources at the end of my fingertips. I am already hooked up with Facebook pages, have received support from strangers and have the comfort of my friends and family at home via text, Facebook, Skype and email. Slightly different to the days of my Great Grandfather.
Putting things into perspective certainly helps my frame of mind and I have needed a breather this afternoon to just chill out and do some research and small things by sitting at the table and spending time on my computer. By doing this I regained some sense of control, of achievement. The children had their nap on time, they will get dinner on time and they will get to bed on-time tonight. Much needed routine, which has been lacking this last week. Routine to help us all feel a little more at ease.
These first few days have been challenging. Despite having amazing support by our friends here, we still have to find our way. Shopping for furniture has not been as easy as we thought. We struggle to find where the right kind of shops are, the things we like are the most expensive. The stuff we can afford, well I shall just politely say they are not our style. SB and I also have different styles of shopping and when the children are being dragged around with us, well let’s just say it has not been pleasant. For any of us.
This is all in addition to the cultural differences we are faced with. The kinds of differences we need to recognise, understand and figure out how to manage according to our own norms, values and style. This involves re-establishing expectations and being constantly mindful of our own and how it may be in-congruent to local custom.
Geert Hofstede, a Social Psychologist whose work in cross-cultural groups is still widely referenced today, said ‘Studying culture without experiencing culture shock is like practicing swimming without experiencing water.’
One of the things I love about our world is its diversity. I love learning about different cultures, and immersing myself into their discovery. Culture is complex and fascinating whether from a country perspective or a workplace perspective. It is an area I get all jiggly about. What I am really enjoying at the moment is reflecting on my own behaviour and attitude to learn more about our cultural differences.
Having said that, I am no different to everyone else. Despite my understanding of things, my academic brain, it is still natural that I am going to be affected by a bit of Culture Shock
On arrival, our first night and morning I felt so excited – Phase One – The Honeymoon phase. By afternoon, I felt frustrated and bewildered – Phase Two – Hostility Phase. I wondered how I would ever manage in this new land. There are cultural elements that are so far removed from my personality and style. I felt there was a values clash and I wondered how I would ever be able to reconcile this. Day two I felt out of control. Things just were not going to plan, and I do not respond well to that. Especially when it involves getting through my to-do list (I’m very task focused). Day three came and that morning I set a goal, and while we achieved the goal, we arrived back to our hotel empty handed and I felt disheartened. I was so excited about shopping for new furniture but now I was convinced we’d live the next two years sleeping on mattresses and sitting on the floor. I took a ‘time-out’ (yes even adults need a time-out to calm down and reflect on their behaviour and attitude). I regrouped, came up with a plan and spent the afternoon achieving some small goals I’d set for myself involving research, making contact with people/groups and getting the children back into routine. Aahhh at last – Phase Three – Recovery and Readjustment.
OK, that is a very shortened time frame for the stages of culture shock, and I am sure they will be expanded over the next six to twelve months. However I am now feeling a lot happier, more settled and I could even go so far as to say the ‘relaxed way of life’ here may be rubbing off on me. Okay it is definitely too early for that. However I am adapting to my environment. There is no doubt that over the coming weeks and months I will readjust my values and expectations so that I can make the absolute best of this situation.