I vividly remember when I moved to Mongolia. I was the most excited nine year old girl you’ve ever seen. I was practically bouncing in my seat as our Korean Air plane landed in the valley in which Ulaanbaatar is located. I had been dreaming of that moment for years. I didn’t care that the ground was littered with broken glass or that the weather was going to be the most bitter of cold. It was my new home. As I look back at my transition to the nation, I note the ease with which I did so. Sure, there were bad days at first. Days where I missed my friends or worried that I would never make any new ones. But, for me, I was just so thrilled to finally have a place to call home.
When we were unexpectedly uprooted and sent back to the States, I did not have the same transition experience. I experienced culture shock for the very first time. It was this feeling of not belonging. A feeling of being lost in a sea of people. I remember when it hit me the worst. My grandmother needed to stop by the grocery store and I had offered to go with her. We walked into the condiments aisle of a Safeway grocery store and I just stopped and stared. I had never felt so overwhelmed in my life. There were at least 13 types of jellies and at least 4 companies for each type. It may sound silly, but it was simply my last straw. I could not comprehend the contrast between the lives I had been living. I felt so foreign. I wanted a home again.
The past week or so has been a déjà vu from my time readjusting to the States. I had really thought that I was so much stronger. I told myself there was no way I was going to struggle with moving to a new culture. I certainly wouldn’t struggle with disliking a culture that I have been studying for so long. But, here I am, the foreigner once again. I struggle with getting through the every day. I am exhausted of the cab rides, the men, the food, and the language. The exhaustion makes me feel so heavy that I am sure I won’t be able to get through the day. I loathe myself for feeling that way.
In response to recognizing this in myself, I have decided to identify ways to fight culture shock. I am not a victim of my situation or circumstances. I am an active participant in a a purposeful adventure. Culture shock is certainly not exclusive to living in a foreign nation. We all go through these periods in our lives where life has changed and we must adjust. I have decided the key is to have a plan of attack. So, ready for this?
My step-by-step plan of attack:
Step 1: Don’t Isolate
Sitting in your room, stewing about your problems, is not the answer. Trust me, I have tried. Multiple times. I promised myself that I would go out after I get more work done. I told myself that I was canceling on my friends because I was tired. But let’s be real, I am reveling in my depression. I’m pretending that being away from the culture is going to make me feel better. The reality is I just end up feeling more alone.
Example of success: Last night my friends and I went out for our friend Tasha’s birthday. I had a lot of homework to get done, but committed to going anyway. I am so glad I did. We ate at a beautiful roof-top restaurant and gazed out over Amman as the sun set. I was reminded once again of the gorgeous city I am living in and of the wonderful people I am surrounded by. It was the best kind of medicine for an aching heart.
Step 2: Treat Yo’self
I crave things sometimes. Not only do I just crave things, but I obsess over them. I talk about the things I am missing all the time. I have a list a mile long of the things I want to do and eat when I get back to the States. Just to name a few: eat honeycomb cereal, take a bubble bath, drive a car, stand outside in the rain, drink hot chai, and catch up on all my Hulu shows. How do you deal with this longing to have normal life back? I would highly suggest treating yourself to something you are missing every once and awhile. Just to get over that painful speed bump on the way to adjustment.
Example of success: I purchased myself cocoa puffs and milk. I ate three bowls of cocoa puffs in one sitting. Judge all you want. It fed my soul.
Step 3: Paper Towel It
A good friend and professor of mine taught me one of the most important things I have ever learned. He taught me the idea of “paper towel-ing.” Paper toweling is when you try something new and if it doesn’t work you just…get over it. You tear off that piece of paper towel and you throw it away. When my professor taught me this phrase, it was in the context of acting. However, I have found it to be endlessly useful in my every day life. You just can’t take life too seriously. You have to be willing to laugh and throw away that mistake. That way you can just keep smiling.
Example of success: If you know me, you know that I am absolutely neurotic about being on time to things. I try my best to be at least five minutes early to class, and usually arrive even earlier. It’s a problem. Like on a massive scale. A Kristen-Bell-obsessed-with-sloths-sized problem. (If you are not sure what I am referring to, please youtube Kristin Bell + Sloths right this moment.) But, Amman is teaching me to paper towel it. Our normal ten minute taxi ride took forty-five minutes due to an obscene amount of crazy Jordanian traffic and an even crazier taxi driver. I ended up walking into class twenty minutes late. But you know what? I paper toweled it and walked in with a smile.
Step 4: Focus on Fun
Whether you are working or studying, it’s altogether too easy to forget that there are good times ahead. In my depression, I started drowning in my deadlines, tests, and routine. I felt like the desert that surrounds Amman had turned into a sinkhole and I was quickly losing sight of safety. But, then, I was thrown a branch that pulled me out. We need adventures out of the ordinary that make us feel alive once again.
Example of success: This saturday, my program is taking me on a tour of Biblical Jordan. I will get to see things like the baptism site of Jesus, Mt. Nebo, St. George Church, and Madaba city. I could not imagine a more exciting use of my Saturday. And, in less than two weeks, I’m leaving with a fantastic group of people to Istanbul, Turkey for 4/5 days of exploring the beautiful city. I am definitely out of that sinkhole.
Well, there you have it. My plan of attack against the evil that is culture shock. Jordan may never be home to me, but I am learning day-by-day that a home is what you make of it. Throwing out the negativity in my life is the only way to begin embracing something so new and different. So, here I go, paper toweling my negativity. I leave you with this quote,
“Optimism is the faith that leads to Achievement.” – Helen Keller