Aug. 2015, I embarked on a journey from Kalamazoo, MI. to Cleveland, TN where I would be studying at Lee University. While I anticipated a season of independence, growth, and exploration, I definitely did not expect to be plagued with culture shock.
According to Merriam Webster’s official site, culture shock is “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation.”
A couple of weeks after arriving on campus, I experienced the anxiousness and confusion that coincide with culture shock. The south was subtly different from the north. For instance, people acted nicer to your face but were slightly more dishonest, which was confusing. I definitely came across as abrasive to many people. Another difference is the way the roadways work, there are an immense amount of medians, along with fewer exits and entrances to parking lots due to the mountainous land. I also attended a private university that is Church of God affiliated. This environment was gravely deviant from that of my public high school in Paw Paw, Michigan. It was different in that people expected you to believe in the Christian faith and portrayed it openly and often. In Michigan, most of my peers were of many different spiritual beliefs. How was it different? Give one example to help make the point! These small differences added up and led to my fall into the depths of culture shock.
I was caught in a web of anxiety and I was stuck in it because I was unaware of it. This rendered me unable to enjoy the adventure for which I had always craved. It was not until my second semester that I understood that I was experiencing intense culture shock. I attended a class called Global Perspectives where I learned about culture shock and its symptoms. As I read the class workbook, I realized I identified with nearly every symptom listed.
These symptoms included: an over-glorification of my home state, emotional instability (there was a lot of crying), unnecessary irritability, depressive states, panic attacks, and homesickness.
Once, I realized what the heck was happening, I began to work towards embracing the culture and learned to celebrate the aspects of Tennessee that made it different from Michigan. This meant I swam in the river and loved it, I hiked in the mountains and I listened to others talk about their religious beliefs.
In June of 2018, I traveled to Colombia where I stayed for nearly a month. There I did not experience an intense amount of culture shock. Compared to Tennessee, I felt almost at home, even though there were more obvious lifestyle changes. Dissimilarities included: a lack of air conditioning, no hot water for showers, a different cuisine, a foreign language and the list trails on. I think the reason for this is that I anticipated the change in culture in Colombia. In fact, I welcomed the exploration of a new place and people. Meanwhile, I did not expect to experience a shift in culture by moving to another state.
The lesson here? It’s important to prepare yourself for a change in ways of living whenever you travel. To go even further than that, it’s even better to celebrate the anticipated culture shift and take full advantage of the adventure into the unknown. I promise you, you’ll learn and grow. Brace yourselves.