Walking through markets thousands of kilometres from home, discovering local cuisine, and listening to locals shout their wares, has become a small part of the now familiar way that each new culture has tickled all five of my senses over each border I cross. As I scrutinise the likes of each culture, the way they act, the way they present themselves, the way they mingle, what they eat; a thought always passes through my mind – this is supposed to shock me.
Yet over and over again, I’ve proved to myself that the love and open arms I cherish for the unknown has allowed me to make a home out of the beautiful places I’ve been so fortunate to visit. For some time, I’ve watched those I pass in my travels become emotionally withdrawn upon the immersion in another culture, as a wave of homesickness took over their ability to enjoy their time abroad. I began thinking I was too emotionally disconnected from my child hood home. But that couldn’t be further from the truth as I find myself proudly bragging about Australia, constantly telling people about my loved ones, and missing our traditional food (that I didn’t even know was considered traditional food until I even left Australia – you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, as they say!).
With a European boyfriend, if anything, I expected to experience culture shock upon spending time with his family that only speak Turkish or German. Though much to my avail it was anything but. I’m now used to being surrounded by abstruse talk, it’s become a part of my ‘normal’. My boyfriend’s Mum and I converse through google translates microphone, vague hand movements, and 1-2 worded ‘sentences’ – as you do! We climb over the language barrier with ease (most of the time), and even in the beginning, not once did I feel uncomfortable or frustrated.
They’ve welcomed me into their home, and although time spent with them has allowed an insight into their normal, it turns out peeking into the heart of a foreign culture by partaking in a traditional celebration is an infallible way to send a shock through the system. I think I finally figured out what culture shock is… in my case anyway!
I’m not sure if it were my mindset that had become accustomed to being able to slip right in wherever I go, that caught me off guard this time. Or if it were the difference between peering into a culture through a solid glass pane alongside others in the same observant position. To being thrown straight into it, bidding farewell to the looking glass, becoming the only English speaker let alone Aussie in a room of hundreds of people. All I know is, I’ve never felt like less of myself than at that time, where I didn’t know what to do, how to act, what was expected, or even what to expect. It’s amazing the difference you see when your second glance is answered from a different point of view. Thus, my ‘seasoned travellers’ ego was hurt at the realisation that the immersion of culture that usually built me up, had swallowed me whole and spat back out the girl that left Australia for the first-time hundreds of flights ago.
I found myself in a situation that was so overwhelming, different, exciting, fun, and scary at the same time. I think it took most of my time there to realise that all I needed to do was step back and accept that it’s okay for me to feel this way, this isn’t my home, this isn’t my normal, and I’m not supposed to fit right in like a hand in a glove. Overthinking aside, I then couldn’t stop watching the kids playfully taking part in traditional dance, and admiring my boyfriend’s cute little cousin in his traditional attire. It seems to me that culture shock can be somewhat of a diamond in the rough, and every person will experience it in their own unique way.
I’ve figured that immersing yourself in a different culture can be so terrifyingly amazing, however conflicting that may sound, if it’s something that will broaden your normal, then I believe it’s definitely something worth pursuing.
– Haylee x