Culture Shock

“My family threw down.” It was something I said to one of my really good friends while attending uni to earn my Bachelors degree. Now to give this context, it was after Thanksgiving, and we were discussing our meals and time with family. Now, I might have lost you, or you might be giggling, but my friend thought that my family got in a fight during the holiday and he was speechless. After five minutes of clarifying the saying “my family threw down” was not a literal statement but a statement that acknowledged the amazingness of the meal, we both laughed, and I reflected that our language, customs, food, clothing, and even music could be so different despite declaring the same country of citizenship. And so, even in traveling, for me, I’ve found differences in my ability to adjust from other Americans and even Blacks from other countries.

The number one question I am asked when someone hears about my travels is, “how do you deal with the culture shock?” I always laugh when people ask and usually respond with, “no, I’m used to it.” Many people cannot fully understand what I mean, but I have been living in a culture within another culture my entire life. You see, growing up Black, there is a lack of representation in mainstream America. Yes, I spoke English, but I code switched when I got around my family and friends. The subculture of Black parental discipline, church, foods, and experiences are usually different than my non-Black friends. There was not a full representation of myself in toys, media, and advertisement. Yes, we had the Cosby Show and Fresh Prince, but I didn’t identify with those either. You see I’m so used to living within a culture that is not my own that I don’t think twice about doing it in another country. I am used to living in a society where I am not the majority, so the shock of culture is something I have experienced in many environments….since I was a child.

You see, my unconscious ability to go from arrival to acceptance of a new culture is almost a superpower. I may be “shocked” at something someone says, wears, or eats while uprooted from the U.S. but it is no different than being back home where I experience it; Observe, laugh with friends later and keep it moving. The middle stages of culture shock include the honeymoon, frustration and adjustment phases of culture shock but I am a Queen at observing and understanding different spaces. I quickly study the posture, language, and humor to be able to pull up a seat at the table. This skill was perfected as a kid when I traveled to suburban communities to compete in sports, when I went to a predominantly white university and later worked in spaces that I could count the number of minorities on both hands. Being shocked by culture is necessary for survival. And I find it much easier to travel not having any expectations to “fit in.” I can’t imagine what it is like to go from privilege to an outsider in a different country. It must be eye-opening. It must be a taste of what minorities go through- but I don’t experience that. For me, it’s a step back and an immediate mental calculation of how to survive and thrive.

Tifanny G.

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