Have you ever heard of culture shock? It’s a very normal part of the cultural acclimation process. Most people are over the moon when they first arrive to a new place, but after 3-6 months the shine begins to wear off, and what is often termed “culture shock” sets in.
Well I’m right on schedule! Happily, I didn’t experience a huge “high” when I arrived, and accordingly this low point isn’t too bad. I definitely don’t feel “shocked” or “in shock,” but after 5 months, suddenly everything in my life that was getting easier feels really HARD.
Why does this happen? Well, moving to a new place is exhausting mentally, physically, and emotionally. When you first arrive, you have to learn how to do everything all over again. Even the littlest things that you never had to think about before become a challenge, like how to lock the bathroom door or who to make eye contact with as you walk down the street. Of course bigger things are harder too, like talking to people and shopping and getting around the city and showering and drinking water and … well, you get the picture.
At first, you are tired all the time from having to make so many decisions every day, but you are also excited! You’re in a new, interesting place, with different, interesting people, gorgeous views, and amazing food. And after a while, things start to get easier. Your language skills improve. You know which bus to take and where to get off. You know who your friends are and which restaurants serve clean water.
But after another while, the newness loses its excitement. You hit a slump in language learning. And all of the little things that take extra energy begin to pile up. This is when culture shock happens.
Everyone’s experience of culture shock is different. For some, they find that they are suddenly annoyed with everything, from honking cars to friendly shopkeepers. Others simply hide from the world, sleeping and watching movies from home.
What am I doing? Well, reading a lot of Perry Mason novels, for one thing. Their world just seems like the opposite of Nepal, and I love the quick banter and the fact that they’re set in 1930s Los Angeles! Nostalgia seems like a pretty important piece of culture shock, so I’m indulging.
Mostly though, I just feel TIRED. I don’t clean my room, I don’t plan my language lessons well, I avoid things like taxis and shopping, which require bargaining. The world doesn’t feel annoying or unjust or unreasonable, just overwhelming.
Now, I hope you don’t feel terribly sorry for me or think that my world is ending. It’s not, and I know it. I know that this is a phase that will end. I’m looking forward to moving in to a new flat with my friend in a few weeks, as I’ll finally stop living out of a suitcase. I’m also looking forward to April, when I’ll finish full-time language learning and start my “real” job, which will give my life more structure.
But until then I’ll squeak by, floating through this phase that I would move to call “culture exhaustion,” and soon I’ll begin to thrive in this new world of mine.