Culture Shock: The reaction which follows from not being able to remedy or relate your cultural views to another culture is my definition of this phenomenon.
As I prepare to depart to work in communities in Mississippi and to backpack the world alone, as a Bonderman fellow, culture shock is at the forefront of my awareness.
We all have our own innate biases. Whether we recognize it or not, we all see the world in an inherently unique way. Many factors influence one’s perspective; I believe one of the most significant and unconscious contributors to our perspective is our culture. Culture engrains in us a certain way of thinking and acting, it sets standards for how we should pursue happiness and a purposeful life. Often we blindly identify and accept these cultural values without knowing if they are truly an intrinsic reflection of our unique selves. For example, do we personally find value and meaning in the work we do, or is that what culture has told us to do in order to live a “successful life?” No one job or path in life is perfect, but we must begin to ask ourselves these questions.
When we identify with our born culture’s perspective we are remaining in the box that is our society. When we travel outside of that society, what we know from our own culture often doesn’t align with the new culture, creating a gaping discrepancy. Whether culture shock is a challenge or opportunity comes not from the disparity itself, rather how we choose to react to the disparity.It is important to be aware of the situation and what emotions are evoked. We may feel threatened. We may want to hold on to our ways, seeing ourselves as distinct and at times superior. Reacting to culture shock in this manner acts to alienate us and create hostility; it amplifies the disconnect between the two cultures.
Instead of trying to contrast our views, we can take in new perspectives openly. We can realize there is value and reason in every perspective. Accepting these new perspectives stimulates us to ask internal questions, which help us to contemplate our values. They provoke us to dissect whether we truly feel a certain way, or, if we have been trapped by what our culture dictates. This questioning is true internal development, arising from being open to the perspectives that don’t mesh with our own. When we begin to do this, we not only transform ourselves, but we start to empathize with a larger whole.
On the surface, I am enthusiastic about the prospect of teaching and helping others make community wide decisions about public health, well-being and environmental health. Beyond this, I am interested to see how we differ. For instance, what makes me define these communities as under resourced? Is it because of the different way in which I grew up? Is it because of the firm expectations placed upon me of higher education and “making a good life for myself” which I don’t associate with, as commonly, for communities of the Delta? I’m excited to redefine my perspective, to see what I take for granted each day, to see what is truly a need or just a luxury and to empathize with a greater picture , so I can expand my own culture.