Culture shock. Culture fatigue. I heard about it so many times at orientation, I couldn’t count the number of times it was mentioned. They explained the roller coaster of emotions you’ll have throughout the year after you move to another country. Some people will go through this earlier and other will go through this later. This chart was ingrained into our brains at every orientation we went to:
I never really thought about culture shock, even after the million times people talked about it, but it hit me. I experienced it. Last night, I broke down when I was video chatting with Mark. I didn’t even realize all these emotions were building up inside me over the past month, waiting to explode. Then it happened… I’m so stressed out. I kept saying that over and over again. I don’t think I’ve cried this hard in a long time, but it was at this point in time when I realized, yeah I’m stressed out from my new environment.
So what happened? For me, it wasn’t a huge event that triggered this, but it was built over the past month. I had a little experience living in another country, since I studied abroad. I also knew some aspects of Japanese life from watching dramas, talking to conversation partners, and reading about Japan. I’m also part Japanese, so I’ve learned about cultural points from family members. When I got here, it wasn’t so much, OMG I’M IN A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WORLD AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO EXPECT kind of thing.
What happened to me was the fact I can’t understand or communicate with people. One year of Japanese is barely getting me anywhere. I can only answer and understand super simple conversations, but obviously, people don’t talk like they’re five years old. I’ve been getting frustrated because I can’t answer questions when they’re directed toward me and I always have to turn to the other JET to help me out. When I study, sometimes I get discouraged because there is so much I have to learn and it feels like I’m not retaining anything I study. I know becoming conversational isn’t going to happen overnight so I need to keep pushing through and keep practicing and studying. I just really hope that my co-workers know that I REALLY REALLY REALLY want to be able to talk to them and understand that they’re saying and that I’m working hard.
Everyday, during lunch, we sit together and I pretty much just sit there and eat my lunch quietly. I try to understand and engage with what they’re saying, but I can only understand about 1/32 of what they’re saying. There are times when they ask me questions, but I can only answer back with really short sentences. Sometimes I feel so lonely even though I’m surrounded by people. With this, each day my little frustrations have been building up, which led to my break down.
Now, what can I do? I know that I can survive. I know that I’m able to live comfortably here and get myself out of miscommunications. I just need to take a deep breathe and keep being patient, because learning the language is going to take some time. It may not even happen in one year and I need to realize that and keep working hard. Sometimes I lose sight of what my goals are, when I start over thinking things. I need to stay healthy, go out exploring, and always remember my goals and why I decided to come here.
This is an amazing, once in a lifetime experience, and I’m grateful for all the opportunities that I’m having and will have here. I’ve experienced so many things in the past month and my year here is only getting started. But I’m also excited for the moment when Mark and I will be able to experience this together. I’m working hard for him and he’s my motivation to keep going and think positively about everything. Part of my battle is not being able to see Mark on a daily basis; not being able to hug him, hear his laugh, or talk about random things. I need to stay strong for the both of us.
Everyone goes through some variation of culture shock and I kept thinking to myself, “You got this. You’re gonna love it the entire time you’re there.” A little cocky on my part, because truthfully, it’s impossible to always be happy with where you’re living no matter if it’s the home you’ve always lived in or a new one. I’ve accepted my faults and I’m now open to growing and becoming stronger and stronger each day. I need to realize the little things that stress me out every day and not let it build up over time. I love my co-workers. They’re extremely nice and welcoming and I’m so glad that I’m living here and working with them. I know that they are happy to help me out and teach me about Japanese life. I need to take that energy and put it into my studies.
Here’s a great post I found about the different stages of culture shock and how to overcome low points: The Complete Guide to Culture Shock
Have you ever experienced culture shock? When was the moment it finally hit you? What did you do about it?