According to the Wikipedia article, there are four main stages of culture shock. First, there is the honeymoon period, where you experience fascination with the local culture. Second, there is the negotiation phase, where there is anxiety because of differences. Third is the adjustment stage, where you develop new habits. Then, finally you reach the Mastery phase, where you are comfortably integrated into the society.
I would place myself somewhere in the negotiation/adjustment phase. I don’t think these two things are distinct, but rather that I am constantly adjusting. I always believed that I am a very open-minded person, but there are still issues that throw me off, and I should probably learn to handle them better.
Point one: language. Since I am basically illiterate in Chinese, I have to resort to reading the English most of the time, and it’s definitely frustrating that I can’t find English in over half the places. Then, when I order my food, I have to point to what I want on the menu so that the waiter/waitress can understand. Especially at my university here, the staff in the canteen are rude and basically yell at you if you don’t order fast enough. People also think that I am a local sometimes (which is good right, cause it means I’ve integrated?). They start speaking to me in super-fast Cantonese, and I give them a look of confusion. And they think I’m dumb, because I don’t know what to say… sigh.
Point two: pace of life. I’m not used to having to wake up early and commuting. Even in the US, I often wake up 10 minutes before class starts, and I can get there on time. I often grab a bite to eat for my 40-50 minute commute. I would say its not uncommon to see people eat as they walk in the US, but here I’m literally the only one doing that. That’s a hard one to change, and I think people give me weird looks for it. Haha.
Point three: personal space. You don’t have a lot of it here. The houses are small, as I’ve mentioned before, but they are basically in your face when you talk. Their breathe or body usually reeks too, so it’s occasionally unbearable.
Point four: straight-forwardness. I picked this up from reading a book, but I’ve noticed it ever since. Chinese people aren’t very direct. It is a high power-distance culture. So it’s almost as though people aren’t willing to speak up often. And when they discuss who is paying for dinner, it is essentially social bartering. While someone offers to pay for dinner, it isn’t really always an offer. You have to consider who should be paying, e.g. who is visiting who, the power distance, who paid last time, so on. I can’t figure it out the subtleties. I really wish it was clearer.
I think I’m self-diagnosing now: sleeping a lot, excessive concern over germs, … uh oh.
Originally posted on halfwayaroundtheworld.studentsgoneglobal.com.