Culture Shock has arrived

Prior to departing for my semester abroad, I was giving a folder of information from the Belmont International Studies office. In that folder was a myriad of information regarding travel plans and insurance and dangers to be aware of for the student traveler. There also was an article on culture shock and how to deal with its symptoms. I, however, took no notice of that article.

I was very fortunate to experience very little culture shock during my semester abroad. I found small cultural differences to be quirky and sometimes annoying, but I never dealt with extreme feelings of insecurity, loss, homesickness or confusion. It’s safe to say that I have never truly experienced culture shock. Until now.

Before moving to Lima, I was prepared to face this mysterious idea of “culture shock” mostly because I had a small taste of it during my two week visit last July. Even then, I wasn’t able to recognize the symptoms. It wasn’t until my friend and Germany travel companion Erin very calmly said, “I think you’re experiencing culture shock,” that I began to see its effect. Now that I can label myself as an American expat living in Lima it’s safe to say that culture shock is in full swing.

Yesterday marked two months of being in Lima and I am well past the Honeymoon phase. Though I’m not sure I ever really was in that phase, mainly due to my July trip. Also, I’m in a relationship with a Peruvian, which means I have been exposed to wide range of Peruvian culture long before deciding to move here. The exact names of the phases vary according to the source, but I believe that I am now somewhere between the “negotiation” and “adjustment” phase.

A couple weeks ago I was right in the middle of the negotiations. Each day was a constant struggle between the Meghan that wants to be brave, learn Spanish and overcome my fears and the Meghan that wants to give up and return to the comfort of the United States. Even as I watched the two Meghans battle, I knew that the brave Meghan would win. Not necessarily because she’s brave, but because more than anything else, she’s stubborn.

And I was right, stubborn Meghan won and she’s now in the adjustment phase. One major factor of adjusting to life in a new culture is to develop a routine. Unfortunately, I do not yet have one. Due to circumstances out of my control, my employment has been delayed over and over and over again. I now have hope to begin work in mid-February. Until then, I need a routine. I’m thinking about developing a self imposed schedule consisting of time for errands, yoga, reading and deliberate Spanish practice. More than anything, my sanity can not handle four more weeks of my vacation lifestyle. I crave more meaningful accomplishments than finding a new recipe and vacuuming my apartment.

I have learned that culture shock is very real. It seems to me that the term can be thrown around in any number of circles, but when it has taken hold of you, it’s very, very real. I have started to notice small changes in my behavior that are a result of the simmering stress and anxiety that I have yet to claim. This stress has somehow seeped into subconscious and become a part of me, making me realize that it’s the kind of stress you don’t notice until it’s no longer there. It is my goal to confront that stress so that I can more easily adapt to Peruvian life.

The next phase in culture shock is the “mastery” phase. I look forward to that time when most people begin to experience a sense of “biculturalism,” adaptation and independence.

Here’s to my self imposed routine relieving my stress and Immigration employees who process my visa quickly.