Experiencing Culture Shock

These thoughts of regret/confusion/doubt about our decision to travel have been playing on my mind lately and mostly I just ignore them, hoping they stop. Sometimes they subside for a day or two but generally pop back up! They tend to pop up more and more as we have more down time. Did we just throw away our entire lives for this? Did I/we make a mistake? There was a part of me that thought we would be busy all the time so there wouldn’t be time to think. But as I quickly learnt not every day travelling is jam packed with stuff, there is down time and sometimes a lot of it between places. We have taken a bit of a break since arriving in Peru. It felt like we were always moving in Chile and after arriving earlier than expected in Peru, due to a mess up at the bus station, we decided to give ourselves a break.

So what’s the issue right? I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to pack up my life with little responsibility and travel the world! Should I really complain? I mean some people would kill for this opportunity! One of my concerns come from no longer having a job. I know that jobs come and go and as Gen Y we are somewhat programmed to change our jobs/careers many times over our lifetime. It relates more to the security of having a decent paying job and this being the first time where I have left a job and I know that there will be a decent gap between my next paid job assignment, well at least I think so. Prior to leaving I signed up to email alerts of jobs in the UK/USA get a feel for the country and job prospects in my industry in the event we decide to try our luck at working internationally before returning to Australia. Maybe this was a bad idea and now is seems to be a constant reminder that job prospects, in my industry, aren’t great and maybe I shouldn’t have thrown away my job. ARRGG. I also look at social media, another bad idea, and see people getting new jobs, while I sit on the other side of the world, in a non-English speaking country, doing nothing as I tend to my sick partner, who ate bad pork (we think) and now has a potential internal parasite (Google Doctor Diagnosis). So, am I jealous of the lives of friends, family and acquaintances back home? Maybe? I don’t even work in the same industry, so why am I jealous or maybe envious. Probably because as my bank account depletes, theirs grows. Welcome to a society controlled by money and status *sigh*.

These thoughts lead me to search Google to see if anyone has documented similar thoughts and thus leading me to articles on ‘homesickness’. Obviously, I miss the people I share my life with back home but I never would have said I am homesick. Maybe I have acute homesickness but it got me thinking back to my Psychology Units at University I am thinking I may be suffering a bit of Culture Shock. Culture Shock can lead to reactions such as confusion, feelings of depression, inability to adapt socially, feelings of isolation and frustration. I would say that I have experienced these. Culture Shock requires a period of adjustment and I know I/we have not given ourselves enough time to adjust. There are four phases of Culture Shock

  1. The honeymoon period – Everything is wonderful, new and exciting
  2. The shock itself – Little by little everything seems to deteriorate and everything appears to be a bit more complicated and difficult.
  3. The recovery phase – Face up to the problem and find your balance to adapt and accept your new reality.
  4. The period of adjustment – Find peace with yourself and you will be able to work more effectively.

You can read more information about Culture Shock at www.humanitarian-psy.org/culture-shock/

I have done some travelling before but I guess there has always been an end date so I have always stayed in the Honeymoon Phase. When you don’t have an end date and you spend a long time away exploring another culture or various cultures it is easy to find yourself smacked in the face with Culture Shock and the Honeymoon Phase seems to deplete quicker then normal.

I would definitely say it is the culture aspect that is pushing at me. Not that South America as a bad culture and so far we have had a good run. I think it comes from reading reviews on things around to do and see and when people are saying that it is unsafe to go here or there or to go out at night or to wear a bag that is visible etc., as well as the food and not being able to drink the tap water or find food that I/we are used to and able to stomach well. Trying to find alternatives and trying to change our entire eating patterns to suit eating small breakfast, large(ish) lunch and a small dinner. Clearly, after watching what these people eat i/we eat too much food. It is all about adjusting and it is going to take time.

After endless searching on the internet and within myself I decided that maybe there needed to be some changes and some mechanisms in place to help combat this case of Culture Shock. I/we are not experiences backpackers/travellers and with that comes a big bag of ‘what do we do now?’. A lot of the time we have no idea what to do and honestly I/we do not want to spend all our time looking at parks/museums/churches/beaches etc., so I decided to do some research on the places we are going to see what is on offer. I know, I/we said we would try and wing it, and yes we are somewhat doing that as nothing is booked or set in stone but I made a list of key things that I really want to see. Obviously, I haven’t done this for all the countries we will visit but I feel this is a start and we can use it as a guide. Maybe we should have done this before we came here? Oh well, cannot turn the clock back so just keep moving forward. Plus, David is sick and we have a fair bit of down time in the hostel so really it is the perfect time to do this.

A few things that have helped me work my way to adjusting…

  1. Perspective – I won’t lie, we did consider shortening the trip to head to find work so our bank balance didn’t keep depleting but then I thought to myself ‘what if we never get the chance to do this again’, what if we go back home and think about travelling and then we have to put it off because of an amazing career opportunity, a wedding bill, kids, a recession (bit morbid) or a vampire invasion (I like Vampires over Zombies). Will we regret not putting our all in to this trip and doing all we can encase we can’t get back easily? Probably, most definitely so gain some perspective and keep moving forward!
  1. Friends/Family – Yes, we are on a different time zone and can make it difficult to message when the other is actually awake but it is worth dropping your friends a message because it nice to hear what is happening back home and to make sure everyone is okay. I do think there needs to be some limit though as in you cannot spend all your time skyping or on social media as you came to experience the world so go and experience the world.
  1. Follow the Patience virtue – Patience doesn’t really exist (ever) in my life. Patience and I are not gal pals and I find Patience frustrating. Nonetheless, it is important and I usually tell myself that if the situation isn’t idea that ‘it is short lived’ and I try to accept, reflect and learn from the experience. I am also trying to find Patience with not being able to do and see everything. I have come to the realisation that sometimes less is more. Focus on seeing and doing things that you gain the most value from even if it may not follow the path of traditional travel recommendations.
  2. Nothing Compares – this is a big one for me, stop comparing yourself to others. This includes back home and on the road. I keep comparing myself to what all my friends and family are doing and keep thinking I am doing it wrong. Then I look at other travellers and think I am travelling wrong. Maybe I/we are. Then I have to go and remind myself that everyone is on a separate journey and what they are doing isn’t even what I want I just think I want it because I am confused about my own journey; which, in time, will all make sense.
  1. Be fearless – This one is not easy at all. How does one just remove fear? I am so fearful of making mistakes, making the wrong decision, being on the wrong path (figuratively and metaphorically), and being afraid to just let it be. Every day, do something that is outside of your comfort zone to combat the fear. Currently I am fearful of speaking Spanish as I do not feel comfortable at all speaking Spanish to anyone. I know small bit of the language but not enough to make conversation. So the only way to get better is to learn and the only way to do this is to practice and make mistakes. Keep persevering and overtime become a little more fearless.

Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for this opportunity and going to do my best to make the most of it. But with everything comes some emotion and sometimes your therapist is on the other side of the world so the next best therapy is to write it down.


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