Have you ever experienced a culture shock? Describe your feelingsThis discussion post replicates a question that I posted for my students to answer in view of the increase in immigrant groups...

Have you ever experienced a culture shock? Describe your feelings

This discussion post replicates a question that I posted for my students to answer in view of the increase in immigrant groups moving to the area where they go to college.

I wanted to sense whether my students (mostly Caucasian) felt threatened or bothered by the changes. I wanted to ensure to my students that changing demographics are not a bad omen, and that this could be a sign of new things to occur.

However, I did sense that my students felt scared, angry, and insecure. Mostly, this happened because they were unfamiliar with the different immigrant groups that were increasingly moving in.

For this reason I felt the need to contact social groups and even local council members to address this topic and make a point to educate the community. Unfortunately, it seems that I am the sole owner of a BRAIN in my local community.

For this reason, I ask you- What have you, personally, felt when you faced your first culture shock?


Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It sounds like you're asking about the flip-side of culture shock, about the reactions of the established majority when the unestablished minorities move in. In my California hometown, during the 80s and 90s, a lot of lower economic class Southeast Asian immigrants were sponsored to come live in the town. And I mean a lot. When I left to move to Maine, the overall population was just under 500,000 (15 years later, it is over 900,000) and entire neighborhoods, entire sectors of the town were wholly enclaves for Southeast Asian immigrants. As a result, simply driving through familiar sections of town brought about encounters with cultural diversity on lots of levels. My feelings (and I have more often than not been the outsider rather than the insider so I believe I can say I don't harbor ethnic or cultural prejudices) were a mix or restraint and wariness: restraint caused by glimpses of a culture so unlike any I'd previously encountered, even though I was a year in South Africa, and wariness of how the new cultural elements might affect my children. I can honestly say that much of the already established community, comprised of many immigrant groups that I went all through school with--the predominant ones being Chinese, Japanese, African American, Armenian, German, Mexican--felt the same as there were court cases in progress when I moved away relating to religious practices that took on some very public aspects.

An interesting contrast is that in the 90s the next wave of immigrants were from India and Mexico. Whereas the Southeast Asians moved into old neighborhoods, the Indian and Mexican immigrants, who were well educated professionals, moved into newly built neighborhoods that expanded the town's edges by enormous amounts. The feelings these new immigrants evoked were very different; it was feelings of wonder and curiosity mixed with respect and admiration. It is safe to say that most of the community responded in a similar way because the very many doctors in the new wave of immigrants already had thriving practices by the time I left town.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My wife and I took a bus from Dubrovnik, Croatia, a beautiful, ancient city on the Adriatic coast, to Budva, in newly independent Montenegro, where we were to meet a former exchange student of mine and she was going to take us into the capital, Podgorica, where she lived.

We went from very tourist friendly Dubrovnik across a border to where very little English was spoken, for example, with the bus driver, who instead of taking us to the bus station, dumped us on a street corner somewhere with one word: "Budva!" at 10:30 PM.

Standing there with our backpacks looking conspicuously American, it became obvious very quickly that we were some distance from where my student was going to meet us, and we also obviously did not speak a word of Serbo-Croatian.

The streets were filled with mostly young people out on a Friday night, dressed to the nines and headed for the waterfront parties.  They were spectacularly disinterested in us.  When I tried to "charades" a request to passersby to call our friend for us, we were mostly ignored, with a few eye rolls and annoyed looks.  It took us a full 45 minutes to finally convey to a kind someone to make a call for us and all was well, but that is as immersed in a foreign culture as I have ever been, and also about as alive as I've ever felt.

In Podgorica, we were greeted at our friend's family flat as visiting royalty, and given dinner at 2:30 in the morning.  They had been waiting to eat all this time until we arrived.  We were served something that looked like marinated, raw chicken, covered in garlic.  We politely asked what the dish was called, and our host responded "paprika".  So we plunged in, and it tasted pretty good really.  Then we proceeded to sweat out garlic the rest of the night!

Though disconcerting at times, it was a wonderful experience, getting that far off of the grid that was familiar to us.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Having travelled a great deal during my life, I have encountered culture shock on numerous occasions. The first time I remember it was when my father took the family on vacation back to his home in rural Mississippi. I'll never forget visiting Vicksburg on the Mississippi River. It was the middle of the summer, and there were kids--black and white--running around completely naked, playing in the old caves and tunnels still existing from the Civil War siege. Old Victorian mansions in total decay were still inhabited by poor families with their yards littered with trash and rusting vehicles of every kind. Unbelievable for the 1960s. I visited and then lived on St. Thomas for several years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the diversity of the Caribbean population--from the ultra-rich to the ultra-poor--was unforgettable. Trips to Europe in the 1960s provided me with a wide cultural view of foreign countries, but these visits weren't as shocking as some of the differences between rural Florida counties, where one town could be friendly and modern, while just 30 miles away another appeared to be existing by 19th century standards. I still suffer culture shock when I visit my stepbrother in rural eastern Kentucky: I still see an outhouse every now and then, and dilapidated trailers with no electricity or windows can literally be found next door to beautiful, modern homes.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I was born to an American mother and a Filipino immigrant father and moved to Micronesia at age 2.  So I'm a bit of a mix of cultures to say the least.  For me, culture shock was returning to the states for college and finding out that I didn't really know what Americans were like.  I expected them to be like me and they weren't.  Two major ways -- the women acted in ways that would have been very "forward" for females where I grew up and I had to get used to the idea that they weren't really showing interest in me through those behaviors.  Second, the men acted in ways that would have caused instant fights where I grew up and yet violence was not acceptable.

For me, the emotional impact was more like what the immigrants experience than what your white students do.  I knew that the feelings and expectations I had were "wrong" and that the mainstream society was "right."  I felt very insecure and out of place.  I clung tightly to a few friends I had who were not from the US and seemed to have attitudes more like my own.  It was a time (and of course I was young) of great insecurity and uneasiness that led me to be very prickly with a lot of people and probably did not help me with my studies.  (And that's with me being American and a native speaker of English and various other things that made me less out of place than many immigrants.)

pacorz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My first culture shock occurred when I was in the third grade. My parents and I moved from downtown Newark, New Jersey, to rural northern New Hampshire. We went from living on a street with nonstop four-lane traffic to living on a dirt road, from being able to see the skyline of New York City to living forty winding miles from the nearest movie theatre.  My classmates made fun of my accent and my clothes, and there was certainly a period of adjustment for the whole family; I remember my mom learning the hard way that cute dresses and patent leather shoes were not appropriate Easter garb in the snow. Visitors would come up from the city bearing bagels, cheesecake, and other treasures we could not buy locally.

The interesting thing to me is how well I adjusted. I love the country, and I have not been back to New Jersey in more than thirty-five years. However the dirt road I grew up on has long been paved, and there are dozens of new houses along it now. McDonald's, Dunkin Donuts, and Wal-Mart have all opened stores in town. This urbanization trend has been giving me culture shock all over again. The people who have moved here to get away from the city are busily bringing city amenities along with them, and I don't like it. I can't move too much further north without leaving the US, though, so I may be stuck.

tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I lived in Slovenia for a year and a half and when I first got there, I experienced culture shock for sure.  It was so weird to walk down the street and not understand what people were saying as they passed.  Going into grocery stores was odd, too, because I didn't know what the people were saying around me.  And the first thing I did when I got there was mail a letter off to my parents and I had no clue what the clerk said to me.  That was extra shocking because I had also had 10 weeks of extensive Slovene language training before going. Much of that training was about tasks just like going to the post office; so, I thought I had the task down, right? Wrong! There were slang words and different accents that totally confused me. 

So many things were different! Food, buildings, cars, ....everything was so different.  I had never felt so displaced!  That was definitely a crazy experience!

But then after I met the people and was able to hold a conversation on my own (about 4 months in) I felt a lot better.  I didn't want to go home after those 18 months because I had found a new home with new friends. The language was beautiful to me and I never wanted to lose it.  Oh, well...who speaks Slovene but 2 million people.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I cannot say that I have had a major culture shock experience, but I did experience something similar to it when I was younger. I grew up on military bases (my father was active duty). Therefore, I never really experienced hate crimes, prejudice, or anything like that.

It was not until I moved to the Midwest that I lived in "normal" community conditions. I remember driving home from school and a car came to a stop next to me at the light. The driver of the car (on my right) rolled down his window and told me that I better watch out "being a white girl." I was horrified. I had never been called a "white girl." Although I am, for me as a child, color did not exist on military bases. I had no clue what was going on.

My cultural shock "experience" was one that really catapulted me into the realities of prejudice. I honestly had no clue, even ay 16, that the lines of race were so divided.

Twenty years later, as a teacher in a very rural area, I can certainly see how the lines still exist.

lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I worked as an ESL or English as a Second Language teacher for five years. During that time, I experienced culture shock when I visited my students' homes. I remember the first time I ate at my student's home. It was a unique experience. I ate real burritos and homemade tacos. I was not expecting such a wonderful experience. It was so different.

Also, I was amazed at the unique traditions. The music was so entertaining. My student had a band. The music was so interesting. I learned so much about other cultures during the five years I taught ESL.

One of my students had a business that made homemade pastries. These pastries would melt in your mouth. I enjoyed my experiences.

I admit I was amazed or intrigued by the way my students' families dressed. The young girls all wore ruffled dresses to school. I noticed that the parents value education and dressed their children to fit the part.


larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Several years past, I visited my son and grandson in Japan. This was my true experience with culture shock, as I was the person who looked "different." I must admit to feeling somewhat exposed and vulnerable, since I did not speak the language, and did not know local customs, but made the best of the experience. This, of course, goes without mentioning the food, items I would have preferred not to eat, but had to for the sake of propriety. Most telling of all, however, was the pervading politeness (as opposed to friendliness) which seemed to dominate that society. There was a profound sense of respect for the person and space of others, even on crowded trains, which I had not experienced before. All in all, it was a valuable lesson in diversity; the white Anglo-Saxon world in which I grew up was certainly not the only world, nor necessarily the best.

Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I, too, experienced culture shock, in rural Mississippi, when we went on a cross-country trip and spent some time there with my husband's relatives.  I was the only white person there, and while everyone was wonderful to me, I couldn't help feeling like a minority person.  They wanted us to stay for dinner, and they had just been talking about the squirrel they had in the freezer, so we insisted on taking them out to dinner.  :)  I had spent some time in rural Missouri, when my first husband was posted there, but rural Mississippi was still quite a shock to me.  Being the city mouse and being white was a kind of double shock.  It can be difficult to be the only "other" in the room, and I remember making a note of that for myself, something to bear in mind as I encounter those who are the "other," too.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I went on a trip to India for nearly two months right after college and I experienced culture shock. I went to many of the rural villages and I must have been the only non-Indian person they have seen in a long time. They all stared at me and some even came to touch my skin. It was all very odd. Moreover, I did not know the customs. So, I must have stuck out. However, what struck me the most was the visible caste system and the unequal distribution of wealth. I went to mansions and not so nice places as well. The discrepancy was like nothing I have ever seen in America.

However, all the people were very friendly and there was little sense of fear on my part - apart from the wild dogs. In all, my experience was fine.

stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I landed in Indonesia on my tour of SE Asia with no clue how to speak the language or carry out any initiative of need or want on my own. The rest of the tour group and the guide took care of me and I survived, but it was a real shock to come to grips with how completely helpless I was. The feeling of complete isolation any time I considered venturing out on my own was overwhelming, compounded by the poverty surrounding us and the begging that followed us nearly everywhere we went.

retrosunshine | Student

I had my culture shock when my family moved to germany from india. The food, the clothes, the language and to top it all the lifestyle gave me the worst time for the first two months.

It almost traumatised my family that we would have to cook without our essential indian ingridients including turmeric and coriander powder. My mother felt worse off once we visited the supermarket and realised that most people in germany ate cheese and red meat. We are from coastal india and stuttgart (where we lived in germany) was a good long way from the sea. BUT we found a sri lankan store for mom's ingridients and a supermarket that sold fresh fish :D

My parents were extremely paranoid with the whole youth lifestyle in germany. The whole thought that I would be mingling with students who smoke and drink put my parents on the defensive :P but I found the gang of indian and pakistani students. Ironically, it was in india that i did all the 'wrong'.

In india we call our neighbours and pretty much everyone else with the title of 'uncle' or 'aunty'. My brother and I were shocked by the usage of 'Mr.' and 'Mrs.'  (or 'Herr' and 'Frau') in germany as we found it extremely rude.

there were many other instances including that of the dress sense of germans which my family had to deal with. BUT at the end of it, what mattered was that we appreciated their culture and held on to our culture. :D

loraaa | Student
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