A shocking culture! Really?

Publié le par JLB


( Note : Cet article est celle d'un étudiant engagé pour le développement , il est actuellement éléve à l'Université d'Heildeberg )

Culture shock is “a feeling of confusion or anxiety that somebody may feel when they live in or visit another country”.This is by the dictionary the definition of the word culture shock, but what does it mean, the words “confusion or anxiety”? Has it anything to do with what culture shock really is?

After finishing my college I applied for a scholarship subsidised by the German government. The idea: to send youth abroad in order to give them the possibility to gain experience in the field of developmental aid. I was 20 years old and more or less prepared to work in a field I had never worked in this intensity before, which additionally was to be embedded in a completely different environment compared to my own. The project I was appointed to is a school for mentally  and physically challenged children in the small town on the south-west coast of India, Kundapura. During two weeks of pre-departure seminars my sending Organisation prepared me for my year abroad and  gave me all the advice I needed when facing the new culture. One point most of the discussions lead to was culture shock, it seemed unavoidable. I however felt ready to face the new challenge!

When I arrived in Bangalore, a major city in the south and the capitol of the region Karnataka, I met my first challenge. Even though confirmed no one was there to pick me up from the airport. I was on my own amongst Indians who tried to persuade me to get into there taxi but of course paying the triple of the price. I did not know whom to trust, everyone seemed to want to rip me off. But of course I was prepared…In the end I found a bus to take me to the centre of town. Stepping out of the bus loaded with my heavy luggage I arrived in a completely different world. It was loud, noises everywhere, crowded with people. An head spinning assault on the senses, with a mind bending array of things to see and an aromatic muddle of flowers, urine, chai and fried food. But I was impressed more that shocked. Trying to avoid the touts keen to persuade me to choose one of their hotels, I managed to find the night bus to the town of Kundapur. And at last, one night later, I arrived in Kundapura.



Here everything was quite different from my first experiences. It was rural, far more quiet and not touristy at all. On the contrast the Indians were astonished to see me in their town. Reflecting on my arrival: the experiences did not really confuse me or make me anxious. I felt happy as it was what I "expected" happy to face these challenges. But was I shocked? However I still had my year ahead. After one week of orientation I got to know the school, the place I was to work for the next 12 months. It is necessary to know that challenged children in India are not integrated in the society. As they are still mostly recognised as a punishment of God, most Indians in Kundapura did not want to be seen in public with these children. The situation of the children in my school was therefore not very satisfying at all. 30 children from severely challenged to deaf and dumb, from the age of five to 32 in three small classrooms. The first time I really felt to be challenged. I was to do the extras: to look after the children who were not able to participate in regular classes, who needed extra care, to undertake specific exercises and to take care of basic needs, to help the three teachers in their classes. Work that of course demanded too much of one who just arrived in a country with various cultural differences.

During the year I became more and more used to my work and to the culture. And almost every day I was confronted with situations that challenged me, maybe even shocked me. Somehow I still waited for the culture shock, I probably had a small “shock” every day…

Yet I did not realise it as I was prepared for something negative. My conclusion is that “anxiety” as the Oxford Dictionary defines culture shock is not adequate. In the end I realised that for me culture shock is more an array of situations that dazzle due to their unfamiliarity and most important that make you think about your own culture more thoroughly. 

Cornelius Gropp

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