Culture Shock

31 Dec

The day after returning to Colorado from Switzerland for the first time since moving there I took my parent’s car out to the grocery store. In that quick drive I instantly noticed how wide the roads were, and had to catch myself from using stop signs as yield signs. Once in the store, a $1.99 bundle of asparagus caught my eye- both for the price and the seasonality (asparagus in December?). However, after these small realizations, I haven’t felt the culture shock I have usually experience before when returning from overseas.

On the other hand, every time my three-year old realized someone was speaking English she pointed it out. For the first few weeks she would pause and say “He is speaking English” or “They speak the same language as we”. She verbalized these thoughts, and I can only wonder what other differences she has picked up on. This trip is the first time I have heard her express thoughts of culture shock. I think it is due to both her age and the duration of our time away (18 months- nearly half of her life).

Though I experienced culture shock after my first time overseas (a semester in Kenya when I was 20), the process was first explained to me while in Peace Corps training in Kyrgyzstan a few years later. Like most people, I assumed that culture shock occurred while in a foreign country, away from home. However, experience, conversation and the Peace Corps explanation showed that culture shock happens just as much, if not more, when returning home. A typical cycle looks like a W with honeymoon, frustration, integration and acclimatization stages in the foreign country and a repeat of the same stages in the home country. For those of us living overseas, I can only imagine this W turning into a continuous zig-zag!

My daughters will grow up as “third culture kids”. I know we will always have a home base in Colorado, even as we (potentially) move from one overseas job to another. But what will be their experience with culture shock? Will they adjust from one new place to another with more ease than my husband and I? Will they be more or less perceptive of the differences between places and people? Will they have an easier time adjusting to Colorado if we continue to live in European countries? How will their abilities to adjust change with age? And finally how will this ride impact their living choices once they are adults?

Kalley is a mother of two girls. Prior to 2010, she worked as a teacher; currently the girls are her number one job. She and her family live near Zurich, Switzerland. Kalley also has an inconsistently updated cooking blog, Culinary Adventures.

4 Responses to “Culture Shock”

  1. natasha devalia January 1, 2012 at 9:17 am #

    The “W” curve is interesting, and I have certainly felt strong shocks upon returning home. Very interesting that your daughter realises that people are speaking the same language as you are!
    On a quick, rather shallow level, it seems that children adapt to changes quickly, more quickly than we do! We’ve traveling quite a bit lately, and within a few days of being in a new setting they are “at home” and excited to discover their new environments. But on the other hand, they need me to be constant and present at night, and most of the day. WHen we get back to our apartment in Chengdu, I can easily let them be on their own, and they don’t have the same crises. I suppose this is age-related.
    Interesting thoughts and questions on this…Thanks for posting!

  2. Pascalinap January 1, 2012 at 9:37 am #

    Interesting… I didn’t know there was a name for this feeling. I wrote a post about it 2 weeks ago on another blog when we returned to France for christmas holidays : http://leavingchengdu.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/monday-in-chengdu-tuesday-in-paris/
    We often talk about jetlag when traveling far from home but cultural shock, when it happens, can be very destabilizing.

  3. Kim Dallas January 4, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

    Great post Kalley! Angus just said to me tonight “if we go back to America we will be the only Chinese people in school!”. That is coming from a 7 year old who has lived overseas since he was 9 months old. He is still color blind. It may be quite a shock for him!

  4. Sarah Schiller January 4, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

    It’s been more difficult returning home than it was living in China for 3+ years! I remember one summer when visiting Michigan, Aaron was 3 years old, and was shocked that a sign would talk to him (the drive-through at Taco Bell). Kids sure do have a different spin on life, especially when it involves more than one home.

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