"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Four Stages of Culture Shock: Applicable to Dogs, Too

Back to class and rain after a sunny weekend in Bend, OR. Joann is on spring break and wanted to see old friends and indulge her nostalgia by returning to her former home of three years. It was 70 degrees Friday, and was in the low 40s Saturday. Quite a different world from the 1-5 corridor.

We recently discussed the concept of culture shock in one of my ESL classes, using a four-stage model to discuss the process an individual goes through in learning how to “be” in a new cultural situation. These stages are: the “honeymoon” phase, the “shock” phase, the “balancing” phase and the “integration” phase. There are other workable models as well.

One could probably guess the essence of each phase, but to briefly elaborate:

Honeymoon—The newness is fascinating; everything seems a bit surreal, magical, intriguing; one has a basically positive and maybe glamorous view of the new culture, eager to discover more and experience everything

Shock—the rose-colored glasses come off, and the negatives emerge; some of the habits or traditions of the new culture become annoying or frustrating; homesicknesses can set in, a longing for familiarity; a phase of disillusionment

Balancing—a person gets used to the new culture; the positives and negatives of the culture are recognized as one gains a more realistic perspective, not being overly idealistic nor overly critical or dismissive of the culture; one begins to see how to balance one’s own customs and values with that of the new culture, learning how to function well in a foreign setting

Integration—one feels at home in the new setting, having somewhat mastered how to live normally and participate well; a sort of harmony is found between your own worldview and habits and that of the host country; one becomes more bicultural than mono-cultural, feeling at home in two worlds

Most of my students get the gist of this movement; learning to articulate in English these concepts in addition to their own experiences is really our primary focus. And as I was attempting to explain this process in class, I realized a striking parallel to being a newlywed. And actually, in the past few days, several examples of culture shock, taking on a variety of expressions, have come to mind:

Marriage. I might be projecting and generalizing here. Most experience a literal honeymoon, of course, spending several days traveling in a brief season that will not be representative of normal life. Shock seems to happen upon realizing that it doesn’t work to be as selfish as you used to be, and that your spouse has to put up with you in your more wretched, unpleasant, or even just plain, ordinary moments.

Perhaps balancing comes upon learning how to be yourself and to express your preferences, wants, and needs while recognizing your responsibility to be looking out for these same things in the other; it may also involve gaining a proper perspective on your spouse—cherishing what’s lovely in him/her while being sacrificial, accommodating, or simply redefining “annoying” as “endearing.”

Integration may not be arriving at the perfect marriage, but perhaps at least having processes in place that allow two people to grow together knowing how to celebrate one another, accept one another, challenge and be challenged by one another. (I’m no expert…it’s not even been eight months yet for me. :) )

The Mariners. I watched the Mariners opening game, which they won. It was a fun game. But they’re not a great team, and the “shock” will eventually come as they start losing more than they win this season, I’d guess. Balancing will probably mean accepting that this season is about developing young talent and enjoying those victories while bearing the growing pains. Perhaps integration involves actually measuring success not by wins-losses but by player development. I’m a nerd.

China. Aside from the initial grossly hot and humid weather, my first days in China were definitely a honeymoon. I don’t know that I experienced the kind of “low” that might be characteristic of culture shock, though I certainly had to get used to the unpleasant realities of life in China, be it the spitting, dirty streets, unpleasant weather, inability to communicate well, being a spectacle, feeling constantly not in control, and being separated from friends, family, and future wife. Balancing came over time, for sure, and I might not have fully realized my integration until I returned to the U.S. and felt slightly homesick for China while finding aspects of U.S. life lacking.

Church shopping. I don't care much for church shopping. It’s so hard to get a feel for a church just by a few short visits, at least considering what’s important to me in a church. I wish someone would just tell me where to go. We haven’t been consistent church-goers since we left the church plant in November, but we’ve found one that we occasionally go to. I suppose I had a sort of rapid honeymoon phase with a church in Olympia. The honeymoon lasted only a few minutes, as I found I really liked the worship space and the location of the city.

The “shock” then took over on Sunday as I must have made a mental list of ten or so things I didn’t care much for during the worship experience. I’m not promoting being critical of church. Critical in the Biblically prophetic sense of calling out the church for its shortcomings so that it can find its way again—yes, I think that’s important. I suppose I walk a fine line here between prophetic and cynical.

I noted everything from the shortage of older generations, to the overly individualistic and not-communitarian-enough worship lyrics, to the way communion was done, to the simplistic sermon, to the fact that no one talked to us and instead seemed to stay in their familiar social groups (as I feel like is common, maybe especially in churches heavily dominated by younger people?). I think I’m fairly aware of what comes next, actions probably paralleling the latter stages of culture shock—distinguishing ideals from reality, giving people more grace, celebrating what good is being done, finding ways to be a part of the solution rather than simply pointing out the problem. Or go to another church. Not that similar challenges won’t emerge. :)

Dogs. This is actually what inspired this post. I was chatting with a man outside my hotel room this weekend who had a labradoodle. She was quite jumpy, though he had her restrained fairly well (the dog, not his wife). He made some comment like “she thinks she’s invincible and hasn’t figured out how the world works yet” (again, the dog), explaining the need to keep her on a leash so that she doesn't, in her eagerness to discover the world, run out into traffic, for example. Perhaps a stretch, but my mind went there: the honeymoon of being a puppy in a new world will wear off as she faces the “shock” of rules and limitations; maybe a “balancing” will come upon recognizing the benefits of having an attentive caretaker and owner contrasted with the downsides of not being fully “free,” paving the way for integration of learning how to hold in tension the reality of being both an animal and a pet.

Other possible parallels:
• Starting a new job
• The aftermath of a religious conversion
• An impulse buy you’re now stuck with
• Beginning a book that turns out to not be what you expected
• Something to do with flavored coffee

Any other ideas?


joann boswell said...

A new blog! Hooray! Let's see:

1. Fancy new globes of light for the balcony
2. a new (fairly small) owl mug, "Hoot"
3. learning to play a new instrument

Matt Boswell said...

I get it. The new lights aren't going anywhere, and I'm going to have to get used to them.