After travelling to England and arriving back in America, an interesting way to examine English culture from an American perspective is to reflect on culture shock theory. Paraphrased from the dictionary, culture shock occurs when an individual suffers from various feelings of disorientation when placed into an unfamiliar culture. As a result, without having a different perspective, (in this case American culture) culture shock could not occur. Generally, there are five stages to culture shock. However, all individuals experience it differently. Although culture shock contains stages, it should be thought of as a fluid process. Therefore, it is not required to pass through all the stages, nor do individuals necessarily experience it in a particular order. I would ultimately like to use this essay to delve deeper into culture shock theory and reflect on how it affected my experience along with my classmates’ trip as a whole.
Focusing in on the specific stages of culture shock, the first is known as the honeymoon stage. As the name suggests, the honeymoon stage describes the very beginnings of the trip when the individual is in awe over the new location. The time of this phase can vary greatly, but the key to the honeymoon stage is that it eventually always comes to an end. Personally, for me the honeymoon stage would occur briefly at random moments, but I did not initially enter the country in awe. One notable moment where it did occur was during the first few walks we took as a group. It is safe to say that we were all in amazement when we explored Lewes and gained an understanding of all the history the tiny town has to offer. Also, the same could be said for the first walk we did in the country side. The views were absolutely breath taking. As a group we came to the conclusion that we could not see views like these anywhere in New Jersey so walk after walk we all truly treasured the scenery. While it is hard to say when the honeymoon phase wore off, I am sure it did. For example, the day we walked in the pouring rain, some of the charm and beauty of the country was lost for me.
The second stage, the negotiation stage, sets in once the individual starts to become aware of differences between the new culture and his or her native culture. People, events, or other cultural differences that once seemed exciting or interesting, begin to frustrate the individual. Examples of side effects that may occur during this stage include intense feelings of anxiety and insomnia. It is strange to think we were only in England for about two weeks because the stages hit me fast. For such a short time, one would expect to be in the honeymoon stage the entire time. However, I came to England with a different perspective than most of my classmates. I was upset, very anxious, and quite afraid of what might happen since I really had no idea what to expect.
There are countless differences between England and America, but there were only a few that really stuck out to me. The first, difference was the racial makeup of the town. I understand that Lewes is a small town and probably not representative of all of England, but this is where we spent the majority of our time so it is something I really noticed. Next, accent and colloquialism also really stood out to me. Which is funny because I think the negotiation stage would have been more difficult if we were in a culture that spoke a different language. However, no matter how long our group was present in England, the aspects of accent and colloquialism in the culture (or any culture for that matter) would have taken a large amount of time to acquire. As a result, given the limited amount of time we were there, we absorbed as much of the culture as we could, but could never mask the fact that we were foreigners. Finally, the pace of life there was very slow and nonchalant compared with the pace of America which is always on the move. I have to admit at times this made me the most uncomfortable because I am not used to such a relaxed environment. Although there are other stages that remain, I do think this is the stage I spent the most time dealing with.
Following the pervious stages, the next is the adjustment stage. This stage occurs once the individual is aware that he or she is suffering from culture shock and begins to look for the positive aspects that he or she once admired in the new culture. It is safe to say once an individual is in this stage; he or she begins to feel comfortable again and gains an understanding of the norms in the new culture and any social cues that seemed unfamiliar upon arrival. In the final days of our trip, I do feel I just started to brush the surface of this stage. Someone like Kayla is a good example for this stage, because she was so into going out and exploring all there was to do. Additionally, she has a knack to handling herself delicately and appropriately in social situations. These traits ultimately gave her an advantage and as an outsider looking in, she seemed very comfortable.
Once the individual truly feels comfortable within the new culture he or she has reached the adaptation of biculturalism stage. This stage differs from the last in that, the individual feels a sense of belonging to the new culture. Personally, I did not reach this stage. However, I do think of Rose who really embraced the cultural and all that it had to offer. By the end, she even picked up a little bit of her own accent and knew how to interact with anyone she met.
The final stage, reverse culture shock, takes place once the individual travels home. If the individual becomes so accustomed to the culture that he or she became a part of for the last few weeks, transitioning back to his or her native culture can be very challenging. No matter what degree of the stages you go through, everyone experiences some form of reverse culture shock. When I came home it felt weird to drive my car again. Every now and again I feel a strong urge to walk, but driving gets you everywhere faster and that falls into place with the American norm of always being on the move. In addition, I missed my family terrible, but to finally reunite with them seemed strange too. I wish I could explain my feelings further. I normally spend two weeks or more away from my family while I am living at school, yet something about being out of the country gave our separation an added weight. I miss the views found in England. Since I have been back, I have not seen anything even remotely close. Finally, I made new friends and grew very accustomed to seeing them daily. It is weird to see the same people every day and then suddenly the routine is broken.
As I said in the beginning, everyone’s experience with culture shock is different. All the women that attended this trip spent most of their time together, and yet I am positive there essay on culture shock would be different from mine. I write this essay as an observation of one of the many aspects of Studying Abroad and exploring a new culture. It is truly a once and a lifetime opportunity and I would encourage everyone to study abroad. Despite my many reservations about the trip, it was a unique experience that I will be forever grateful I had the chance to experience.