Do not expect the same sense of urgency or availability of conveniences
In the heat of a strong and intense culture shock moment in your host country, it is very, very easy to slip a bit. Slipping up is what culture shock is all about. There are moments when you take a step back and ask yourself, “Did I just do that?!” Not the best moments in your attempt to have meaningful cultural experiences and intercultural exchanges. Many of these moments are things you are actually trying to avoid or think you are above them, but then your “sense of urgency” just shows its face at the most inopportune times.
So, what are these conveniences of our home country that we instinctively want to cling to? They aren’t necessarily things you can explain in specifics, but there are general topics we could discuss.
“Where is the bathroom? Is that the only bathroom in this place? Am I going to have to use that? Do I really have to actually pay money to use this restroom?”
There are times when you are in search of a bathroom in a non-western country; probably the most important thing you need while traveling. In the United States and in some other westernized countries, the general idea that restaurants, stores, grocery stores, etc. in a community will provide you with a restroom free of charge, and most of the time you don’t even need to buy something there. We expect that the bathrooms are going to be there for us that we indeed start taking that convenience for granted. Then you find yourself in another country and that convenience is now gone. Many places do not even have a bathroom for their customers to use. The quest for where you are going to find a bathroom to use is indeed a real one when walking around a city in a foreign country. Not everyone will let you into their bathrooms!
“It is taking so long for the internet to get set up in my apartment! Why don’t they offer an English option when I called the phone company’s customer support line? Why is the internet so slow in this country?”
How important is having internet in your home nowadays? Most people cannot live without it. Now throw in your inability to communicate in the host country’s language to actually get internet set up in your home, and it can feel like your sense of urgency about getting internet into your life is not shared with the local phone company…not one bit.
Some international schools provide support to their new teachers to help get things set up in their apartment or to even have them set up before they get there, but other international schools leave you on your own. That means you are the one going to the telephone store and trying to figure everything out yourself. Now the tricky part is when you finally get to the date of the installation, you get the phone call from the technician who is literally minutes away from your house. You are so close to getting the internet set up, yet the technician is speaking to you in the host country’s language and doesn’t speak one word of English. Luckily though, many times the technician does arrive and is able to install everything successfully, but in that one stressful moment, you would have given anything to be able to speak their language.
“Could this line be going any slower? How can there be so many people here? Where exactly is the ‘line’ anyways??!”
Waiting in line in more western countries is sometimes quite different from waiting in lines in countries in Asia. What are the hidden rules about getting in a line in China for example? What are the hidden rules about getting in line in India? In some countries pushing and shoving is just part of the game when in a line waiting to get to the cashier. The locals have a “sense of urgency,” the correct sense of urgency, and they get to the front of the line faster. You just need to carefully observe and figure out what their rules are first so that you can also get to the cashier in less time.
The convenience in a more western country is that you can assume that nobody will be touching you or pushing you in a line, the line will most likely be a straight one, and there will be someone who can speak English more or less at the register. Once you are living in a foreign country though, you soon may realize that you have possibly taken for granted all of those conveniences from your home country.
If there is one lesson to be learned…it is that you actually do (usually) end up getting the conveniences that you look for in your host country, it just comes to you a bit slower than or in a different way maybe to what you are used to. It all comes down to communication (or your lack of communication) doesn’t it? Maybe your sense of urgency for all the conveniences you expect will be lessened a bit if you are able to explain yourself better.
What has been your experience living in your host country?
This article was submitted anonymously by an ISC member.