Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Culture Shock

Shock. Adjustment. W Curve. Stress.

I knew this phrase before. But I hadn't read much about it.

Okay, anything about it.

The word shock connotates a kind of violence. A jolt that stops the heart before it can catch its step and keep beating. The sudden chance of everything. Explosive. Traumatic. It happens all at once and it hurts and rings in your now deaf ears.

Moving to Bulgaria wasn't like that. Moving here felt like normal life. I didn't notice anything that looked or felt like shock or a shut down. It just felt like normally hard weeks or normally good weeks.

 But the past two weeks have been hard. Which pissed me off. It was hard and, literally, nothing was really wrong. I got a cold. I tried to cook things. I taught in something resembling a normal routine.

My insides were not having it. I was wallowing and I didn't know in what. The whole process scared me.

Then I remembered the phrase "culture shock". I looked it up. Did some reading. Read the descriptors from NorthWestern here.

Let's see if I qualify, shall we?

Exhaustion, fatigue, or changes to your appetite / Insomnia, difficulty establishing sleep patterns.
Check. I can't fall asleep at anywhere like the right times at night. My appetite is out of control weird.

Major concern over small health problems. / Heightened anxiety about sleeping arrangements.
Check. The way I flipped out at camp about the fleas. Or my fears when I first slept in my bed in Dobrich.

Check. Sorry Fraleigh. You get the brunt of this.

Fits of anger and frustration or depression alternating with elation
Check. (Snorts of deep bellied laughter) How did they know?!

Superior attitude expressed by complaints.
Check. It's kind of fun to boast about how my water cuts out or how I mounted a mini-war  with my apartment to make it livable.

Feelings of rejection, isolation, and loneliness.
Check. Am I just too weird to talk to, oh fellow teachers?

Feeling like a child. 
Check. Especially when I first arrived and couldn't buy food for myself, transport myself, find clothes by myself, talk by myself, etc.

 So that's why I've been such a mess!

I'm leaning towards using the term Culture Stress. Stress connotates a long term situation. A subtle strain that continues and continues until fatigue sets in and the heart rate still tries to rise. It happens during sleep and during waking hours.

I skipped the honeymoon stage. Or I totally had it last summer. This year, I jumped straight into the frustrations. Remember that post about my crying uncontrollably?

The biggest difference between my perception and the reality of culture stress has been the direction of it. I imagined it to be a selfish rejection of the new culture. I didn't know that it could become self directed. It is a tense assessment that something is wrong. Depending on your personality, it can be outwards directed, usually at the problems in the new culture, expressed as frustration and anger and complaints. Or it can be internalized. Something is wrong with me. I'm the failed one. I can't speak the language, I can't solve my own problems, I'm the problem. That's definitely the direction I've gone.

Internalizing. Expressed as depression.

Which is just as misplaced an emotion as complaints about the culture. I'm learning. I'm trying. It will take time.

Realizing this made everything so much easier.

And those moments of elation! Aren't they worth it? When I go to a new salsa class and dance really well even though I can't understand the teaching. When I buy a ticket with no problem. When some of my students tell me that Marinka, the lady who owns the corner store, says that my Bulgarian is very good. The fact that I know Marinka's name at all. When a student tells me that they loved my hashed up attempt at a lesson. When I start to put names together of students interested in ballroom dancing. When I successfully order something anywhere. When I know what a student said when they cursed out their neighbor in a combo of Bulgarian and Turkish and can address the problem.

Eventually, it will settle out. Things will be clearer. I'll panic less. Work harder when I stop wallowing in my feeling of childlike helplessness. I'll have the courage to pick up my GRE practice homework again and I'll have the courage to finally start learning new Bulgarian phrases again and I'll have the courage to go out and take longer walks because I won't be scared of losing my way.

Today is a new day. Let's go.

1 comment:

andafterthestorm said...

Ah yes, culture shock. It was initially pretty subtle for me when I moved overseas. I had three weeks of a honeymoon and then boom, reality hits, this whole, "oh wait, this is my life now."

I can totally relate to much of what you're sharing. It sounds like you are coming into a good place and taking it all head on. I found that just realizing what was happening made a huge difference.

Thanks for openly and honestly sharing your experience!