I’ve always thought the term “culture shock” sounded over-dramatic.
In the time leading up to the semester, our group had heard our fill of “beware’s” about the cultural differences to come during our time in Romania—how we’d consistently be pushed out of comfort zones, hitting personal lows in this new environment. In response to this, I specifically recall the statement “Well, I feel like my comfort zone is being out of my comfort zone” naively escaping my lips.
To save face from too much shame, the personal trait this statement stems from is my love to take new experiences head on. I aim to dig deeply into opportunities and take on new ideas that revamp my previous ways of thinking. I feel as though I don’t often hold back when it comes to trying something new, and I get frustrated with myself if ever a situation arises that hampers me in this respect—I have recognized the fruits that grow from the labor of challenges in an individual’s life, and I desire to better understand the part God allows us to play in His world after enduring trials.
So in theory, this mindset sounds great: go abroad, feel the pull, walk through the valleys of life, and by the grace of God come home “perfect.”—Inner-turmoil doesn’t sound so bad from the outside. A healthy dose of doubt would spice things up, and acquiring questions has to be more exciting than the alternative…or, so it initially seems.
I found myself in a rut last week, one which was not noted right away—a lack of “solid calling for the future” here, a dose of “questioning my role in a group” there…all coated in the weariness of a language barrier to subtly take away just enough energy to hamper productivity. When those around me didn’t appear as worn and wearied, my analytical nature kicked in. I began thinking to myself, “God, what is this? I was initially so excited and ready to learn…why would you choose these means of all possible means to challenge me…”
And I’d had such nice and neat plans for growth mapped out ahead of time…
My constant thinking was an ever-present haze that clouded my mind throughout the days; I knew I was reaching the point where my thoughts would come to the surface, presumably in a way that broke my composed shell which so desperately wanted to state “Not to worry, I’ve got everything covered.”—It ended up being a simple conversation of “How are you doing?” with a few other girls over our lunch break. After failing to dance around what was really on my mind, I finally allowed a disheartened admittance of my stressed soul. It was this wise statement of one of the young women that got me thinking: “Go easy on yourself; you can’t expect this much growth in such a short amount of time.”
And with that, my own eagerness had bested me—I was so ready to find the loophole of “change without challenge” in experiencing a new culture that I was taken aback when I couldn’t swallow so much new in a single dose.
As one of our lectures put it, “Studying different cultures simply makes you more aware that things could be different.” This statement holds so much conviction for the inner-self as well—a lack of solid calling can later bring about a different, more fulfilling direction than initially planned; having a different role in a group has the potential to be an enlightening experience, with new skills and facets to a personality just beginning to be refined and utilized; the difference between the knowledge one has and the knowledge one desires creates an awareness of all there truly is to learn, and can make the desire to pursue knowledge more attainable by taking it one day at a time.
It is only through time that the foreign becomes the familiar, in both cultural practicalities and personal development. As Dana best put it in a lecture on virtues: “People need to learn how to be happy in the midst of striving for goals.” The desire for instant gratification in the human nature demands to see tangible growth through our experiences, without giving much rest for the moments we’re not entirely sure what to make of what we’ve been given. It is then that we must acknowledge that we are continually growing, only seeing the difference after our new and broadened horizons are in full view—the conquered inner-valleys are much more recognizable from the mountain peak, and it’s only then that we realize why the landscape was so vast and varied during the journey.
It seems that part of the “shock” factor in culture shock is that we never know the potential form of different we could be in a genuinely different scenario. It was said we would experience it in our own, individual ways once here—For me, it was fully resting in the current journey, acknowledging the purpose it serves as a precursor to all others that are to come.
It was coming to terms with the fact that I could be a more different type of me and still make sense out of life.