Culture Shock - Is it Possible to Be Prepared for Everything?

As someone who has moved around a lot, I hadn’t anticipated the extremes of the culture shock I experienced when I moved to India. I never really set down any roots anywhere and had gotten quite good at assimilating myself into the communities I moved into. I found jobs, I made friends and I learned the local culture well. Before moving to India I investigated all I could about Indian culture so that I could prepare as much as possible. I knew it would be a big change but had little understanding of just how deeply it would affect me.

Shortly after coming here [to India] I began reading articles about culture shock trying to understand some of the things I was going through that I had not expected. I learned about the honeymoon phase then the anger and withdrawal and the phases that I should expect. I got a big scare when most articles said they could last two years and horrified when I read one that said it takes 5-7 years before you feel comfortable. Those all made me think about how anyone would choose to suffer like this for so long, even if it makes sense to stay in the new country and keep going for financial or other reasons. I can’t imagine anyone would choose to fight such circumstances for so long.

Then I ran across your article “Why Can’t I Enjoy Life The Same Way After Moving Abroad?” You provided me a much clearer understanding of just what I was up against and just how many things I was experiencing that were related to the culture shock. I had never seen these things listed in other articles this way and I found it quite eye opening. I’ve always been the type to fix things but without knowing what is wrong I felt powerless against these forces.

Many days since moving to India I have felt like I’m going crazy or that I can’t possibly be experiencing reality. I have questioned my own judgment which is usually pretty good. I have found it extremely difficult to trust people and even the thoughts I have. I often feel exhausted without having done anything. While I don’t feel depressed, I also often feel as if even simple things are too much trouble. I avoid doing them because I don’t want to waste the effort or energy.

I knew that a big part of my frustration and longing for American goods was culture shock and being a normally realistic person I was able to calm myself often by a reminder that I do need to eat and Indian food is good or other similar gestures. I’ve never been against any culture so to find myself completely resistant to anything Indian was quite a shock to me as well. I like Indian food and then all of a sudden I found myself disgusted at the thought of it. I found myself trying to convince my own mind that I wasn’t going to die from eating the food or drinking the water. Unable to find any western style clothes I liked I succumbed to wearing old pajamas I had brought with me and such, clinging to anything American I could find.

In the midst of this shock I completely forgot why it was I left the US. Though I rarely discuss any of it on my blog I left because there was nothing there for me. Despite graduating with the highest GPA available and with top honors, having recommendations from professors and professional contacts I was unable to get a job in my field (Criminal Justice!!). I had (well, still have) a psychotic ex who did everything in his power to keep me down in life. I had a family who didn’t care if I survived life or not and I had lost pretty much everything trying to fight these circumstances. Still, in the midst of my culture shock I wanted nothing more than the comfort that I felt home could provide – not even caring that before I left the US that comfort had not been provided for the majority of my life.

Another aspect you mentioned that I had felt like was only my own arrogance was not getting daily work done. I find it frustrating here in a city where everything is covered in dust and dirt to even attempt to dust shelves, sweep the floor or sometimes even shower. I often felt like there was no point to showering because as soon as you get out you have to cook and the sweat that rolls off your body is just insane. I still showered daily though because the fighter inside of me said that I had to or I would surely gross myself out and slump into a depression. However, feeling like that was such a struggle only brought me more mental stress. I always loved shower time – how could I dread it so much now and feel like it wasn’t needed? I just didn’t understand.
So much of what I see and do every day was filled with questions and rarely any answers. I felt like –sometimes still feel like – I don’t know how to live here. I feel like I don’t know how to take care of myself and have even found myself resorting to child like behaviors I haven’t engaged in since I was a baby. Even as a child I don’t recall acting like this and my mother assures me I didn’t so I don’t know how the behaviors are surfacing now.

All of these things combined can really throw you for a loop. Even the most level headed and stable adult could find themselves a completely different person. There are days I don’t recognize myself and I can’t seem to force a change, which only frustrates me more. Going through culture shock can make you a better person, but you have to have the knowledge to understand and fight it. I don’t know if it will be worth it in the end since I’m still going through it, but I’m thankful to find online blogs and articles like yours to give me the tools I need to make it through.

Author, Kristy Kumari is an American Married to an Indian, who has lived in India.


Previous 4 Guest Blog Posts:
4 Ways to Handle Culture Shock
Getting Into the Groove of Life In India: Three Pieces of Friendly Advice (by Vidya Hebbar and Jennifer Kumar)
Going Home Again – Three Tips on Moving Back in With Parents as an Adult by Carolyn Sperry

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