This is supposed to be a feature article and NOT an essay. Which worries me because I fear it sounds too much like an essay... what do you think? Can it pass as an essay? Getting info on Culture Shock was extremely hard so I did the best I could. My teacher wants a lead, a nut graph, a body with both narration and exposition, and a conclusion.
With that being said, tell me what you think. Will I at least pass with this?
She looks around at everything flying past her. The glimmering neon Tokyo lights reflect off her eyes as she stands in the middle of the road, trying to take in everything she sees and hears without being overwhelmed Hoards of people are rushing by; someone new entering her vision every second. Yet despite the hundreds of people going by, very few actually bump into her; and when they do, a polite apology is given and they quickly get back on their way. It's now escaping twilight and entering night and the neon lights seem to take over the sun's duties; providing light. However, from where we are standing, at the corner of Higashi and Shibuya (Shibuya Crossing), these illuminated advertisements are only secondary to the giant, jumbro-tron plastered on a building with a giant Starbucks logo stationed across it. At the moment the screen, is demonstrating Sony's newest cellphones on the market; the phones are being held by two Japanese schoolgirls with bright pink hair, and a wide smile. Both give the pedestrians walking below the peace sign, snap their fingers and disappear, before the ad starts over again. To Erica, this would be two whole months of confusion.
In the heart and soul of Tokyo, capital of the nation of Japan, strange seems to be the norm. From hotels where you sleep in capsules to beautiful temples located amidst high rises, it's a city that never ceases to amaze. The confusion and wonder my cousin Erica experienced at Shibuya was a classic case of Culture Shock; the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or in Erica's case, a visit to a new country. As not just Canadians but the world begin mobilizing themselves more and more, opting to study in foreign countries or move to countries once never immigrant destinations, Culture Shock is quickly becoming a common sensation, which anyone from any race or any culture can experience. It has become such an issue that the Canadian Government has even has even put up a webpage, dedicated to informing citizens on what is Culture Shock and how to cope with it.
Mia Young, author of "Contemporary Japan & Popular Culture" wrote, "Over half of international American students who go to study in Japan, half of them return home after only one semester." [Young, 11] Startling news if you ask me. What does this mean? I'm sure they are not returning home because the education isn't good enough; Japan is consistently rated one of the top countries in the world for education. No, this simply shows that sometimes Culture Shock can be just too much of a shock. The students are not prepared to experience another culture; they think they are but they're not. Just like everyone claims they know how to speak Spanish yet when the time calls to actually speak it, the most they can say is, "hola".
As an experience traveler to Japan and in particular Tokyo, these feelings had slowly gone away with each trip to the Asian capital I had made. However, I could sense this was exactly how Erica was feeling; I could see it in her eyes, her body language, the way she carried herself. She was not ready for a change of scenery and culture so quickly; that was most obviously apparent. Erica had spent her whole life in her nice, cozy bubble that protected her everywhere she went. But once we arrived in Japan, that bubble immediately burst; she was exposed to the outside world for two whole months.
"I never felt so out of place in my life." She told me as we reflected back on the trip. "And there weren't particular things that got me feeling confused, they were the small subtle things; like the way everyone was so courteous and helpful. Or seeing men literally sleep on the floor of the metro because they worked too much! Okay that wasn't subtle but...It was just...weird and so unusual. You know, especially for someone coming from Canada where everyone minds their own business. I wish I could have just prepared myself."
Carleen Wood, in her book, "Psychology of Culture Shock" however, gives out hope to whoever wishes to spend that one year studying in that foreign country no one's ever heard of it. He believes that Culture Shock can be divided into four stages. [Wood, pg.46] And yes, it can be conquered.
First, we have "The Honeymoon Stage". At first you are excited by the new environment and a few frustrations do not spoil your enthusiasm. Then experiencing some difficulties with simple things like, for instance, making telephone calls, or using public transport, you tend to down down-play negative emotions.
Next, you experience, "The Negotiation Stage"; the period in which cultural differences in behavior and values become more obvious. What previously seemed exciting, new and challenging is now merely frustrating. You may feel isolated and become withdrawn from life around you. You seek security in the familiar. Food from home, possibly even what you never particularly enjoyed, becomes a focus, maybe an obsession.
The third stage is "The Adjustment Stage". In this stage, you may reject what is around you, perhaps becoming opinionated and negative. You may feel that everyone is against you and that nobody understands you. Limpet Limpet-like you cling to other people from your home country, hoping to have your negative stereotypes of the country and its lifestyle reinforced. However, you are beginning to re re-assert yourself.
And then finally comes the last stage, "The Mastery Stage". Based on your successes in negotiating a variety of social situations and, maybe, increased language skills, your self-esteem grows. You can accept the negative differences and tolerate them. Knowing that you cannot change your surroundings you now enjoy certain aspects of culture of country and feel relieved and strengthened from having overcome the difficulties. You may even feel a sense of belonging.
One night, Erica and I had gone out for drinks with other Japanese people that my uncle knew. Erica did not know however, that in Japan, if someone fills up your cup, you are forced to drink it or else you are deemed shameful and expelled from the group; yes Japanese take their social stipulations very seriously. Erica, being her first time to Japan, at first would drink whenever someone filled up her cup. However, after quite the number of drunks, she just stopped drinking. The Japanese men got up, complained to our uncle that she was being a terrible guest in "their" country and left the bar.
When we told our grandfather this, he laughed. "Oh the stories I have for you when I come from Italy". Being a first generation immigrant, my grandfather, like many other immigrants to Canada, experienced cultural shock in our home land too. "First I go to New York, but I no like to many people so I come to Canada." He recalls to us in his heavy Italian accent and broken English. "I come here, it so cold! And me I only have this little jacket that didn't help for nothing! Then, when I get married and buy my first duplex, the people living upstairs... weren't married! I tell myself, ma (but) what going on in this country?" 81 years old and in this country for over 50 years, he's still stuck on the first two stages of Culture Shock.
Don't worry though; getting to the third and fourth stage of Culture Shock does not have to take so long. But when you are stuck in the first and second stage, here are the best coping strategies according to the Government of Canada: [Canada, 1]
1) Admit frankly that these impacts exist. It is not a sign of weakness to admit that you feel uncomfortable, tense or confused.
2) Learn the rules of living in your host country. Try to understand how and why the local people act the way they do. Their behaviour and customs, although they may be different from your own, are neither better nor worse than what you are used to.
3) Get involved in some aspect of the new culture. Whether you study art or music, or learn a new sport or martial art, being an interested student will make a world of difference.
4) Take time to learn the language. It always helps to understand as much as possible of what people are saying. They will appreciate your effort to communicate with them in their language, even if it is just a few simple phrases, and it will make your daily life much easier.
5) Take care of yourself. Eat well, exercise and take the time to sleep. Limit alcohol consumption to moderate amounts.
6) Travel. Take the time to be a tourist and explore the country's sights.
7) Make friends and develop relationships. Getting to know local people will help you overcome cultural differences and understand the country. It will also show you how to be more sensitive to cultural norms and expectations.
8) Maintain contact with friends and family back home. Writing home about your experiences and problems can help you sort through them. It is also a good idea to keep a journal of your feelings and thoughts.
9) Do something that reminds you of home. Listening to your favourite music or practising a familiar hobby can boost your spirits when you are feeling homesick.
10) Avoid idealizing life back home. Try to make the most of your stay and consciously adopt an open mind
It is important to stress that culture shock is entirely normal, usually unavoidable and not a sign that you have made a mistake or that you won't manage. In fact there are very positive aspects of culture shock. The experience can be a significant learning experience, making you more aware of aspects of your own culture as well as the new culture you have entered. It will give you valuable skills that will serve you in many ways now and in the future. And the more experience you have, the easier things become right? Erica is living proof.
"I learnt a lot from that trip though." Erica tells me. "It really did open up my world in ways I never thought possible. I'm even thinking about doing a semester abroad in Brazil!"
"That sounds encouraging" I tell her.
She laughs. "Yeah, but my parents aren't too crazy about the idea... eh, I'm still gonna do it."
"Can you even speak Portuguese?"
"Hey, if I can survive living in that freak show of country called Japan, I can survive anywhere!"