I always thought culture shock was something absurd. I knew I wouldn’t always agree with everything I encounter in a new and different country and that there will be things to frustrate me. It had never gone that far so I would call it a culture shock but this time it hit me – a little harder. It may be that all the other times before, I haven’t gone out too far of my comfort zone and stayed or moved to places with similar backgrounds, cultures, values and customs. There wasn’t that much of a change from home. Or it can be that I expected a lot of my travels through South America, I hoped them to be perfectly relaxing and easy and to be fun and games, always. Which was not so much the case.
The four culture shock stages
Culture shock goes through four stages – honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, and acceptance. From person to person or even country to country these stages can go by fast or slow, it can take weeks but also up to years. When you are only traveling for one week or two you might get as far as the frustration part but most short-travels are only filled with the honeymoon phase. And I love that phase. It is that feeling of pure excitement and freedom you get when you arrive at a new place. Knowing you have so much time left to explore and to learn so many new things. The same feeling you get driving though a place imagining yourself living there, how you have your own apartment there and can do all the activities every day you are now only able to do for a few days – it is basically a little daydreaming. That kind of anticipation is why I love traveling so much.
Staying a little longer in the same place, however, makes you question the one or the other custom of the people. You start living every-day life and observing more and more people in their every-day lives and slowly you notice the differences that don’t make too much sense to you. And you repeatedly say to yourself: “Well, at home this would never ever be imaginable. Oh, at home we do it so much better!” Congratulations, you reached the frustration phase! I think nobody likes this phase. It’s a constant time of complaining and getting “pissed off” of every-day situations. The bus is constantly late? Taxis honk at you to get your attention all the time? People behave in a different manner that you’re not used to and you don’t know how to interpret that? Tiny things like these make you question your decision of moving to this new place and you might even get a little homesick. Thankfully, you won’t get stuck in this phase but move on to …
The Adjustment phase is where you try to fit in. Where you adapt to some customs and behaviors and start thinking about them actually not being that bad. Your mood goes up again as you get along easier with everything and there is no constant fight with yourself. You realize what it takes to be a functional part of the society you live in and you are willing to make the move towards it which brings you closer to the last phase – the Acceptance phase. Like it already applies you will accept things as they are in the country, things you won’t be able to change anyway. Deeper cultural differences may take you a little longer to except than every-day behavioral differences for example. This means you can bounce back and forth in the culture shock phases as you encounter new changes along your experience that completely throw you for a loop again.
My experiences in South America
What I noticed during the last few months was that I was hopping from honeymoon to frustration on a weekly basis. Traveling for the most part of the time makes one see new places too fast, which makes it nearly impossible to be frustrated or to adjust and accept on regional differences and of course like said above you always feel that excitement getting to a new place anyway which puts your mind off the “bad” experiences. Despite this, there are still characteristics in – I can pretty much say – all places we’ve been so far that haven’t changed throughout our journey in South America. And those are the ones that had been nagging me and made me frustrated all the way. And I think I am still not completely through the four stages. The one or the other occurrence still rattle me. However, a whole lot that used to make me mad and drive me crazy is not even bothering me anymore except when I am tired or hungry or just in a bad mood but I guess that would be the same if it happened to me in my home country. As I mentioned in some posts before there are a few differences that are not so much understandable for people from the “Western” countries. Of course every person has his or her own mind and can observe or adapt to behavior and cultural changes in a different way. Something that seems odd to me can make perfect sense to another person. That’s why I am not going to plot down the “things I think are weird or even bad” but try to picture the changes I observe in an objective manner in other posts, so everyone can decide for him or herself.
Now that I’ve actually been through such a culture shock experience I think it is an important part of getting to know a place for what it really is, form an understanding and integrate to the society. It has definitely helped me to be more alert but also be more tolerant towards the people I meet. I just wanted to share this post with you because a lot of people think of long-term travel as something AMAZING and a constant holiday. Of course you get to choose what you do every single day but you cannot always go to a restaurant to eat or lie on the beach and enjoy the sun all day. You have to do a lot of organizational work, transportation, accommodation, food, places to visit. And most important interact with locals and their systems – as we are not traveling with an organized group package that feeds you and takes you everywhere. However, I love the way we travel at the moment and the active life-style we have adapted throughout the last months, despite the one or the other downside or exhausting task, but then you can find downsides in all aspects of life. Bottom line: Traveling teaches you so much about life, not only the place you go but also your life at home. It is not always a honeymoon and definitely not a constant holiday but that’s only a small price you pay for all the experiences, joy and excitement you receive in contrary!