Thursday, April 16, 2009

Culture Shock 101

Wow... has it ever been a long time since my last update and... so much has happened. Where do I start to fill you in on life as I now know it?

Last time I wrote I spoke a very little bit about the challenges I had been going through, about the adjustments (which have been huge), about Mthoko and the apartment that we had gotten... so this is how things have progressed. I'll try to include a little more detail.

I mentioned that the challenges - the culture shock that I've experienced here - has been quite different to regular culture shock, I believe. I've experienced culture shock before but its been when I've been living someplace for just 6 months, 1 year or 2 years... never when I've chosen to live somewhere permanently. A whole new reality hits. I don't know if culture shock can be described to someone whose never moved out of their culture to another culture before but... I'll try.

It is a good stretching opportunity - I think often times people equate culture shock as being something negative. But it is challenging in a good way. I feel like a stronger person and any amount of overcoming, no matter how small or big it might be, makes me feel like I've conquered the world and accomplished something great - and I think I have!

I've been getting used to ways of doing things, to different perspectives and to a totally different environment and this is where the shock comes in - sometimes I would just rather revert back to what I know. Sometimes I hate the way something might be done here... but I'm learning.

One thing I've really learnt through all this culture shock is, not to fall to extremes. What does this mean? Well, it seems normal to think that it would be possible for someone, in the face of so many different ways of doing things, of thinking, etc., to think that their way is best and stubbornly stick to it at any cost. However, its also possible for someone to want to become a part of a culture so much that they are willing to give up their own ways and totally take on the new culture's ways. I think this was my mistake during my first few months. I knew this move would be permanent so I thought that the best way to transition easily would be to take on South Africa's way of doing things... But then I realized something...

I realized that what I was trying to do was impossible and actually, not that healthy. I had good intentions but in my heart, I am Canadian. And I love being Canadian. I love my country. I love my friends and family back at home. I love the way I was raised. I love the landscape of the country I come from. I still don't love the weather but... maybe I just need to live overseas for a little while longer? Haha, maybe then I'll come to miss snow too.

Anyway, I realized that in adjusting, I needed to maintain some balance and an open mind. Its key when going through an experience like this one to listen to all differences but to decide what works for me and what doesn't... not take on everything regardless of how it meshes or doesn't mesh with my Canadian world view and practices. I am a Canadian living in South Africa - not a South African living in South Africa and its okay for me to be me. I like that.

So this is a little of what I've been going through. Its taken some time to reach these conclusions even though the truths I've discovered seem so simple. Its taken some times of frustration, some tears, some hugs, a very understanding fiance and some great feelings of finallly overcoming as I do small things like take the bus by myself, walk downtown by myself and find new places and discover new things (for security reasons - because South Africa is much more dangerous than home, I haven't been able to do a lot of things independently until just recently. You can imagine how that made me feel being so used to hop in the car and go anywhere I felt at home. At times I would joke with friends here about needing a bodyguard or a babysitter wherever I went. However now, being able to venture out on my own feels so so good and I have a sense of ownership of where I live).

Alright, I've already written a tonne and haven't really gotten to how things have changed since I last wrote. I think I may just give you some time to read through this gigantic update and I'll write more later. Things are settling down now so there should be no more changing ahead for at least a little while. Thats it for me from now... and I promise to update again in a week.
Lots of love to all!

1 comment:

Christine said...

I resonate so deeply with your post. It was when I was first in South Africa that I had loving and patient African friends who told me: "It's okay to be American, embrace that, don't deny the culture that God has raised you in." This is huge! Like you, I wanted to be an African while in Africa, but found myself denying the truth in who and what I was.
These times of self-discovery are beautiful, and rare in most people's lives. You are gaining important personal insight in order to give of yourself more fully to the culture you have been called to. Keep on keeping on, God is with you always.

Much love,