I believe that culture shock is aptly named. Currently, I find myself experiencing it on two levels. The first is the obvious, text-book variety level – it is “shocking” to exist in a culture that is largely different from what you know and understand. I think this stems partly from the constant overload of information that your senses must absorb. In Canada, I am not constantly analyzing everything that I am doing, wondering if I am behaving appropriately, and struggling to speak the language. Often, days go by when I do not even consider the fact that I am indeed living in a culture. In Bangkok, however, culture is inescapable, and adds a new and complex dimension to life that is, at times, overwhelming.
The second dimension of culture shock is what I find to be especially interesting, particularly in my more self-absorbed moments. It is the fact that I am always shocked by culture shock. Although my international experiences have been short term, they have generally been long enough to give me a taste of culture shock. Each time, however, it comes as a fresh surprise. “Why do I feel so crappy?” I used to ask myself (now Todd is the lucky recipient of these rants). “I was so excited to come here. Why do I hate it right now?” Classic culture shock behaviour, and yet it still surprises me.
I’ve spent the past 7 years (gaahhhhh!! My youth is gone!!) in the realms of academia, and if there is one thing that has been beaten into me, it is to question and analyze everything. This lesson is still fresh, and I find myself applying it to my adjustment process. It’s like an out of body experience, with Ruth The Academic analyzing Ruth The Emotional Spazz. “Now you’re going through Stage 1 (“I love it here! Everything here is amazing!”). Now you’re experiencing Stage 2 (“I hate everything! I’m sick of Thai food! Our apartment smells like garbage!”).” Currently, I am in a vaguely depressed stage – I’m no longer spazzing out, but I’m starting to miss my friends and family, my house and my University, and being able to blend in with the general population. This, too, is classic culture shock.
Even though I can analyze it, and step outside of it for a moment, it still blindsides me. It still shocks me.