Culture Shock — What it is and How to Deal With It
Growing up, I went to a primarily Black school. So you could imagine the culture shock I felt when I began attending a predominantly White university in a completely different state than the one I am from. Changing from high school culture to university culture can be tough as it is. But going from one end of the color spectrum to the other was a whole different animal.
I remember feeling like people were focusing on me. Like they knew I was the odd one out in the crowd.
What I experienced echoes a quote from Zora Neale Hurston. It goes,
“I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background…Beside the waters of the Hudson” I feel my race. Among the thousand white persons, I am a dark rock surged upon and overswept, but through it all I remain myself.”
What is culture shock?
Culture shock is a fish out of water experience.
It is when you go from one culture to another and because of your experience in the previous culture, you are somewhat unequipped to navigate the new culture. It’s like you’re so used to something that when there is a change, you aren’t ready for it.
Culture shock doesn’t just happen among Black and White people, but people groups of all colors.
It has two elements to it: the mental aspect and the physical aspect.
A lot of the time, it’s all just in our heads. We have this feeling that we don’t fit in. And that may be true. I’m not going to tell you that you fit in.
You might not. And that’s ok. It can be great, even.
And I’d think most of the time, people won’t tell you outright that you don’t fit in. It’s all in the mindset you have about the situations you find yourself in.
Here are things to keep in mind when dealing with culture shock.
Remember they’re just people
They’re just people like you and me. See them as being like you. Humanity is one thing that concretely ties us together.
Some people will stare
Should they? No, that’s not what I am saying, but people do it anyway. If you look different, people will stare.
It’s not always about your color
Sometimes it could be what your wearing. Maybe they think you are attractive. You’d never know unless they tell you. Even still, you would just be taking their word for it.
Sometimes it is about your color
I like to be honest. Sometimes it is about your color. Sometimes it is about racism. But let’s say that most of the time it isn’t.
You’ll have to gauge it on a case by case basis. And then what you do with how you feel has to do with you. At the end of the day, culture shock is primarily a mental, internal feeling caused by our surroundings. And even then, our brain can deceive us about what is happening in our surroundings. It can make us feel like everyone is looking at us. Well sometimes that may be true, sometimes it may not be.
Now, I don’t want to seem like I’m minimizing culture shock. It can be a big deal especially if you are one of a few who look or act like you in a particular area. With that, let’s move on to the physical aspect.
We’ve got to diversify.
The quote I gave was stated in the early 1900s. We weren’t even integrated in America yet. Why do I still feel this way today?
While part of it is mental, the other part has to do with the environment. I was so used to being around Black people that when I was around a large number of White people, I was uncomfortable. Would they ask weird questions? Would they be able to understand me?
We need to be willing to expand from our own people groups and get to know people outside of our communities.
We can’t afford to have segregation, especially not all the time.
There’s a big, wide world for us all to explore and work together in, for the betterment of it and us.
And there are all types of people in it. That’s part of the human condition. We are different. It’s a beautiful thing.
So let’s embrace our differences. Let’s not let them divide us completely. Getting to know different types of people is both a way to learn about the world and to learn about yourself.
Dealing with culture shock can be tough. And I’m sure many people struggle with getting over the initial shock. If you are finding that you’re in a culturally shocking situation, don’t be afraid to branch out and find new, good, trustworthy people to become acquainted with. Treat it as a learning opportunity. It may take time to become comfortable, but plenty of good things take time.