Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hello, Culture Shock, My Old Friend

I've undergone transcontinental relocation enough times to know better, but I honestly thought this time would be different.

This time, I was in my twenties – old enough to cope; not like when I was a child, trying to grow up at the same time as adjusting to new places.

This time, I was moving to from the UK to the US – a paltry cultural difference. Was I not a connoisseur of American TV/movies/internets? Had I not lived from the ages of one to seven in Alabama? Surely I was entirely prepared for all aspects of life in the States.

This time, the decision was wholly mine – not dictated by my parents (whose choices, admittedly, I don't recall ever objecting to, and sometimes actively encouraged). I'd never wanted anything more than I wanted to move 5000 miles west and take my rightful place as a grad student in ~California~.

And, of course, it really did seem that way at first. I instantly felt as though I fit in. School was everything I hoped it would be. New friends were abundant and wonderful. The weather was gorgeous. For about three months, it was like being ever so slightly drunk all the damn time.

For the past three months, though, it's been more like being ever so slightly hungover all the damn time. This is literally textbook culture shock, and it's really stupid that I wasn't prepared for it. I just... thought it would be different.

I thought it would be easy, because I was comparing it to the last transcontinental upheaval. That was when we moved from Kenya to Scotland, which is a hell of a cultural transition. That was when I was thirteen, which is a hell of an age. In comparison, this move should have been a cakewalk.

I thought it would be easy, because I imagined that I would be used to this by now. I am a third culture kid. Wanderlust runs in my veins. I crave new places. Not for me the desire to be settled. Not for me the need to feel from somewhere. Not for me the constant belittling comparisons of the new place with the vastly superior place where I last lived. Me, I positively revel in the fact that everywhere on Earth I am a stranger in a strange land. You can't feel homesick if nowhere is home.

I thought it would be easy. I was wrong.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know anything about changing countries. I've only been out of the USA once - to Mexico. I do know a little bit about the subtleties of culture-shift within the USA, though.

    I grew up in Arizona and was there until age 25, then some years ago, I moved to Pennsylvania. If you were to ask me "which is superior" I can say that I actually do like the climate and the culture of where I live now a lot better than where I grew up - but I do genuinely miss the desert sometimes and family car-trips that spanned many elevations and climates within hours. (Arizona is like a mini-world when it comes to the elevation shifts).

    I miss the Mexcian food and spicy food of Arizona. I miss the fish n' chip shops, too, not because they were quality in any way, but becuase they had this unique red-sauce and sometimes, growing up on cheap, crappy food makes you crave cheap, crappy food. If I had to move back, however, I'd look back at Philly with longing screaming SANDWICHES!!! Becasue everything sandwich-related here is awesome (not just the Cheesteaks). I'd also bemoan the loss of Rita's. Rita's Water Ice - it is happy in a cup... and TastyKake... and the much fresher and better prepared seafood...

    My current area seems to be a bit more liberal in air... and in some ways with more diversity - the Jewish holidays are honored around here and I meet Amish people at a local market... at the same time, I don't see as many Mexican-American or Native American folks around as in my old home...

    And for something stupid that pretains to some of the art I do: People in Arizona were totally cool with displaying animal bones and skulls in their yards or on their walls. Sure, what I did with the arting up of bones was unusual even there, but one of my first bone-painting pieces was some imagery on a cow-skull for an aunt and uncle who *kept it on their front porch.* People don't do that in Pennsylvania. If I put up one of my skulls outside the apartment, or even in the living room where my visiting landlord might encounter it, I might actually get into trouble becuase of the cultural perception. In the west, cattle and deer bones are a "sign of the west" and the wild, here, they're just creepy. So, my work stays in my back bedroom, occasionally sold to interested people who find me on Deviant Art and make an offer.

    Now, if you're talking about America being strange to you because of our politics - you came at a prime time... election year, baby! Things are going to get absolutely nuts. Strap in tight for the ride. Even us natives think these years are insane.