Tube Culture

What do you think of when you hear the word “culture”? Before going to England, I thought culture meant wearing traditional dress, living in a hut, and eating strange foods. “Culture” was some nebulous idea you only found in developing countries where people had never heard of computers or of Hollywood. I didn’t think I’d find any of that in London. I figured three months there would be almost the same as three months in Provo, except I’d be in a big city and people would have funny accents and bad teeth.

During the preparation course I took before my field study, we discussed culture a great deal. Soon I came to realize “culture” wasn’t about being exotic–it was simply about the way you lived your life and reacted to others on a day-to-day basis.

I still wasn’t quite prepared for everything I would experience in London. I didn’t expect how crowded and old everything was. I’m from South Jordan, Utah–a growing city on the edge of a wide valley, with more than enough room to spread, unlike London, in which bodies and buildings alike are quite squished together. Another thing I didn’t expect in London was all of the smells: cigarette smoke, sewers, incense, exhaust, curry, fast food, sweat, ale. My nose was in a state of constant sensory overload. And then there was how fast everything moved–I’ve never seen so many people move in so many directions at the same time, and I had no idea how I’d get around without being trampled. Continue reading →

Is This My Life Right Now?

13 July
It is some godforsaken hour of the morning when we arrive at our hotel in Delhi. The taxi, annoyed that we’d pre-paid inside the airport, goes off the instant we evacuate his vehicle, leaving us to wonder if that mangy, emaciated stray dog is chewing on a real animal or a stuffed one as we make our way to the hotel’s glass door. There are people and dogs sleeping on the streets, and through the glass we can see the hotel employees sleeping on the couches in the lobby. Rachel knocks and wakes one of them, and he ambles unhappily to the door.

“I made a reservation here,” says Rachel. She hands him a card.

The man is tired and does not care. He is ready to turn around and lay back down on the couch. A group of men, standing just up the street, spots us standing there vulnerably, surrounded by our luggage, and swarms with offers of alternative “very nice” hotels “not far” from here. I pretend that I cannot speak English. Then I hear Rachel say, “excuse me–no–I have a reservation!” and I turn to see the door shut and watch that employee go back to bed, leaving us completely stranded on the street, in Delhi, at 2:30 a.m., with only the dog, its meal, and the group of hotel-men for company.

It is this moment when Julia, a girl in my group, thinks, “Is this my life right now?”

The question becomes representative of our summer in India. Continue reading →

Recognizing and Coping with Culture Shock

Natives balancing refrigerators on their heads, speeding taxis adhering to no discernible traffic rules, compulsive teeth brushing, snapping at ransom travel buddies, crying because you got a tomato in your sandwich—what do all these have in common?

Culture shock.

One of my favorite readings that we do in the Field Study prep course is an article by Gary Ferraro called “Coping with Culture Shock.”  This article treats culture shock for what it is—much more complex than merely what we experience when we first get off a plane and realize that things are bit “different” than what we are used to.  Ferraro says that culture shock comes in four stages:

  1. The Honeymoon– Everything is different, but there is something fun and romantic about it all
  2. Irritation and Hostility– This comes after the honeymoon stage.  A small number of problems become huge really fast, and all of the sudden all of those little differences from the honeymoon phase are frustrating.
  3. Gradual Adjustment– This is the passing of the crisis and a move towards “gradual recovery” (163).
  4. Biculturism– The last stage represents full or near full recovery, and means that you have the ability to function in both cultures effectively.

I have definitely witnessed these steps within my own cross cultural experiences in Ghana and India, and also with those who I traveled with.  These steps are not necessarily linear either. Continue reading →