Culture shock

I am in the state of cultural shock. No doubt about it!

Before we started our exchange periode, we attended a preparation course two weeks, arranged by the Norwegian Peacecorps (FK Norway) at Hadeland, Norway. Those two weeks were very revarding for me in many aspects. This was something I felt during the course, but I am really appreciating the course now, in hindsight. Some of the more prosaic lessons I learned there, were the importance of taking pictures and writing a blog. But the most important, I feel right now at least, was the lectures about culture differences and culture shock.

I feel a lot of frustation these days. I feel that people arround me behave unreasonable and stupid in many situasions. Not all the time, of course, but still I get easily ennoyed. The good thing is that I knew that this would probably happen, already before I came here. I know it´s a normal reaction to a different culture, so it has probably as much to do with me, the expectations that my culture has maid me have, and the state I am in right now, as it has with the surroundings here in Zanzibar. I know that everyone experiencing culture shock (which is a neicessary fase in adaptation to a new culture), will find a lot in this new culture to be stupid. But still I can´t help feeling that a lot of what I see actually is untolerable.

Still I have to tolerate it. We are guests here, and we have to adapt somehow. But it is hard. It is hard to tolerate that corruption is everywhere. It is hard to tolerate a system where people get so little paid for doing an honest job, that they have be corrupt to make ends meet. It is hard to tolerate that children starve to death, not because of lack of food, but because noone make sure they actually are being fed. It is hard to tolerate the big difference between rich and poor. It is hard to tolerate that people working at the hospital just sit down and do nothing, when even the slightest effort would make a difference in life-and-death-situations. It is difficult to tolerate that noone bother to maintain and fix equipment, furnitures and buildings.  It is difficult to tolerate that they just ask for new things, even when it is quite obvious that it would be very easy to repair the things they have from before. It is even harder to tolerate, because they don´t take responsebility, but just say that they “lack resources”, even though they don´t exploit the resources that they actually have in the best possible way (not even something close to the best possible way).

Some things are tolerable, but still annoying. Like when you walk around in the streets and meet people that try to sell the same things to you, day after day. And that they will not stop asking you, neither if you are polite nor if you are critical and direct; neither if you talk english nor swahili. And the feeling that everyone try to fool you to pay too much, when ever you buy something, can be annoying. To discover that what people tell you actually isn´t the trouth (they tend to pretend that everything is better, more functional and organized then it actually is), can also do something with your trust in the surroundings. Not to understand what is being said, even though you try hard to learn the language, is also stressful after some time.

But as I said; I knew that I would feel this way before I left Norway, and I know that it is a normal reaction. At the preparation course, we were asked to draw a sketch, illustrating how we expected our personal culture shock to evolve. And my expectations were not far from what is now the reality. It is good to remember this, every once in a while.

As my drawing shows, I was feeling that my culture shock started already before my arrival here at Zanzibar, because the preparation periode in it self represented an effort to get to know more about Tanzania and Zanzibar, and let go of some of my “norwegian” habits and perspectives.

It is said that the first periode after arrival is quite good for most people (this is called the “honeymoon fase”), but I didn´t expect that to be so significant for me, so it is not very obvious in my drawing (but it is there). I had a small “honeymoon”, because the first two weeks I had a feeling that things weren´t that bad, even thought some things actually were much worse than I had expected (and my expectations were actually very low). After this “honeymoon fase” I predicted a steep decline in my level of adaptation (the Y-axis on the graph is coping with the challenges I meet). And I was right. It is only getting worse and worse these days.

But I think I am close to the stabilization fase now. I think that it want be much worse, than it is right now. But I expect that it will take some time before I feel that things are getting better (it will just stop being worse, I think). The reason that my drawing has two possible outcomes in the middle part, is that I originally expected it to be bad for a long time, before it gradually but certainly started to get better and better. But then I thougt that my adaptation would begin after about 2 months (so quite soon, actually), and then have a set back, when I was faced with my “old” reality, as I got visiters from Norway. As it has turned out, I have had so much contact with europeans down here, that I now think that my original sketch (with the flat, low middle part) is the most accurate. Actually, I now think that having my closest here in a few months will aid me, and not give me a set back, in my adaptation. And I think that I still have to stand being in the lowest part of the curve for many more weeks.

Time will show if I am right.

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5 Responses to Culture shock

  1. Pingback: T.I.A. | Making Sense in Zanzibar

  2. Pingback: Adaptation and integration | Making Sense in Zanzibar

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