Friday, March 18, 2011

culture shock

I have been thinking about making a post related to this for quite some time, but I have been hesitant to do so for a variety of reasons. However, during a conversation with a friend who is going on her fifth month here, she asked me if, after nearly 16 months, I was over the culture shock. And, how did I respond?

Well, I feel like the answer is a bit complicated. Because the truth is culture shock is complicated. Culture shock does not just mean that you are shocked by the obvious differences between your "home" culture and the culture in which you are currently living.
There are many things that don't hold the same "shock" factor that they may have initially.
Traffic no longer causes me anxiety (at least not anymore than it would in America).
I don't bat an eye (or crinkle my nose) when I walk past the raw meat hanging in the market, even in the late afternoon when I know it has been sitting in the heat all day.
I enjoy being able to buy my snacks on the street without getting off my motorbike.
I am accustomed to seeing men pulling off the street, walking up to the nearest wall or tree, and peeing wherever they so desire.

Those things don't shock me anymore. But, those are not the things that culture shock is really about. There are so many more facets to it. The deeper you immerse yourself, the more there is to unpack. People handle emotions differently here. People make decisions based on things that will likely never make sense to me.

I love my life. I love Cambodia. There is nowhere else I would rather be at this point in my life, and I know that this is exactly where I am supposed to be. But, that does not mean that every day is easy, that I am not still shocked by things. It just looks different. And, I can't even articulate it, really. I can, however, tell you what I have realized about myself and how I know in myself that culture shock still happens.
One day I can have full conversations with people in Khmer. The next day I cannot understand simple questions and phrases I have known for months.
I call a friend while standing in the aisle at the "Western" grocery store because there is a new flavor of pop-tarts. (I don't like pop-tarts, and I would never pay upwards of $5 for a box of them...but they are familiar.)
Sometimes all I want to do is sleep, but I can't...
After eating rice nearly every day for weeks (which I do like!), all I want to do is eat bread, bread, and more bread!

I am not sure that culture shock ever fully goes away, but it changes. I am aware that I feel it, but most days it isn't a big deal. And, on days when I really feel it, I go buy a loaf of bread, a diet coke, and watch a few episodes of The Office.

And, through it all, God is there.

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." ~ Hebrews 13:8


  1. I know how you feel. Surprisingly, it hasn't really gotten much easier for us either. Somethings are great and we can see how we've grown... Other things are all the more painful; we realize it isn't the way things "used to be"...

    Hope you are well!

  2. I was so relieved to hear you say that your grasp of the language changes drastically from day to day...I have days that are exactly the same as what you described! And at least my second language is still latin-based!