by Muhammed Akici, Izmir University of Economics, December 11, 2008

print.gif Printer-friendly version

It was my first time overseas in America. My plane landed at JFK airport. After the plane landed, I was really hungry. I went somewhere to eat and I started looking at people who were around me. I felt a really different atmosphere in this different world because I had never seen before so many different people together. Black, Asian, Latin and other nationalities were all together and everyone was speaking English. I was totally shocked. I thought “What a multicultural place!” After I ate my food, I went to take another flight. There was a flight from JFK to Syracuse. But I saw that my flight had been canceled and my luggage was lost. At this time my English was really bad and I had to get some help from people who were around me to get back my luggage.

I tried to explain my situation to those people but they were having a difficult time understanding what I was saying and I didn’t understand what they said to me. I had to make a call to my Turkish friend who lives close to JFK. But I didn’t have a cell phone. So I had to use a public phone but I didn’t know how to use a public phone, and I didn’t know how much change I should put in the phone. Finally, one of the American people helped me to call my Turkish friend. I explained what was going on to my friend. He talked in English to the American person who helped me get back my lost luggage. After the phone conversation, that person took me to the help desk and explained my problem. They all helped me to find my luggage. It was my first time in a very different world. So I was completely shocked because of seeing a lot of different people together and because of not understanding and not speaking the local language.

The problem for foreign people is disorientation because of not understanding the local language. When foreign people don’t understand or don’t speak, they feel bad and they miss communicating in their own local language. It is really hard to communicate with people without knowing the local language well. When a foreign person is communicating with a native speaker, it can be frustrating for the foreigner. The foreigner will be asking a question and the native speaker won’t understand what he or she is saying. So the language barrier makes communication difficult and this difficulty create a shock on foreign people.

Culture shock is the reaction to a new and different culture abroad. It is obvious that many things change from county to country. When people go abroad, they see that religion, climate, foods, traffic, friendships, and attitudes are generally different from their own country. Being exposed to these different things creates cultural shock and it makes people startled and surprised. Wikipedia describes cultural shock as “the anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, uncertainty, confusion, etc.) felt when people have to operate within an entirely different cultural or social environment, such as a foreign country.” Along with this anxiety come feelings such as surprise and disorientation. “It grows out of the difficulties in assimilating the new culture, causing difficulty in knowing what is appropriate and what is not. This is often combined dislike for or even disgust (moral or aesthetical) with certain aspects of the new or different culture.”

Almost all people going abroad experience cultural shock. It will be helpful to deal with the difficulties to know that it is a normal process to feel many bad things. One of the most common feeling is missing home, which triggers homesickness. Homesickness hurts people or gets them into trouble. Some people believe that homesickness is not a big problem. But I know it is. Maybe in the beginning of being abroad, foreign students don’t feel homesickness very deeply because in the first few weeks they are really excited about being abroad. But day by day their homesickness grows. When I first arrived here everything seemed good. There was an orientation program for international students that showed us some good places. It helped us to adapt to the new local culture. We went to a baseball game. (I have never seen a live game.) We went swimming in one of the Finger Lakes. The program gave us the opportunity to meet a lot of international students, and we learned about new cultures from these students. At that time I didn’t miss my family or my country. But over time my feelings have changed. Sometimes I really miss my family and my country. Almost all international students have feelings like these. Therefore, we can say that missing home is often caused by culture shock.

Another reason for feeling culture shock is seeing unfamiliar faces and people. When a
foreigner arrives abroad, he or she sees the people who are not like his or her country’s people. When foreign people go to a new place, they see many different faces. Because of seeing many unfamiliar faces, the foreigners may feel uncomfortable and scared. But if they go abroad with a group of people who are from their own country, they have a chance to share their own culture. Being together with the same culture’s people makes international people feel safe and protected. Craig Storti explains how a foreigner acts to his or her situation in his The Art of Crossing Culture. “For the first weeks after your arrival, you will be interacting day in day out, hour by hour; with people you don’t know or don’t know well. There is nothing bad about this, of course-part of the adventure of being an expatriate is meeting new people-but it takes much more energy and effort than interacting with people you already know. When you are with people like this, you can relax and be yourself. Because you know they know you, you don’t have to be especially careful of what you do and say to make sure they form a positive impression.”(7).

If you look at a culture, you can see that the culture carries many features of religion. For example, my culture was mostly created by Islamic religion. We have many Islamic special days or celebrations that are very important for country, and surely all counties have some special things affected by religion. The bad thing is if your religion has a bad reputation in the other countries, it is going to be hard to expect that you are going to feel comfortable abroad. You can be blamed or you can be thought of as a guilty person for your religion, especially as a Muslim in America. Many people in the U.S.A. think Islam is responsible for some terrorist attacks, and they consider all Muslims as bad people. They say that killing people is an Islamic rule. But they don’t know that in Islamic religion it is not allowed to kill even an ant. Those kinds of people just approach us with a prejudgment. They don’t like us and they don’t want to listen to us. Because of these reasons being a Muslim in the U.S.A. is like carrying a heavy burden on our back.

As a Muslim person, it was a hard decision to come to the U.S.A. because especially after 9-11 many things have changed for Muslim people. The Homeland security was established. Some American people started thinking that Muslims were bad people. Because of these situations I was thinking that I would face so many difficulties in the U.S.A. when I was in Turkey. But I was totally surprised after I met some American people who think Islam is not responsible for terrorist attacks. We became very close friends. One of my American friends explained his thoughts about Islam: “Your religion is yours and my religion is mine. I can only judge you by looking at your personality. I can’t blame you for a thing that you didn’t do. Being a terrorist is not related to religions. To be a terrorist is to get brain washed.” He wasn’t the only person that told this to me. I heard explanations like this from many different people. I found many people who don’t associate Muslims generally with terrorism. Moreover, whenever I talk to these kinds of people I always realize that we share so many cultural things although our religions are different, things like hospitality or helping people without expectations.

Another thing that creates cultural shock is the difference between people’s approach to relationships. For instance typical American young people think that relationships between opposite sexes must be only for fun. But Turkish youth think that a relationship is a valuable thing, not a thing that only refers to fun. These different approaches to relationship change from country to country, and when a foreigner sees the difference, he or she will be surprised. There is an obvious difference between Turkish and American relationships. The main point is that generally American youth are looking for one night stand relationships. In contrast, we can see Turkish people are more serious about relationships. Before I came to the U.S.A., I was expecting that I would find other people my age were also serious about sexual relationships. But after I came here, I saw that the majority of young people were untying or loosening the rope of relationships. One of my friends from Turkey, Ali Can Duran, mentions the differences between Turkish and American relationships in his article on Neo-vox, an online international student magazine. He says, “Night life near the college generally ends with sex, much of it sexual relations for just one night. If you live in Turkey, a one-night-stand is uncommon. Although the sexual relations between young, unmarried couples are considered normal in my country, we say, ‘love is first, sex is second.’ Turkish culture's perspective about sex is simply that if you don't have love, you should not have sex.”

There could be so many reasons for culture shock. But the major things that create it for foreign people are different languages, seeing strange things that trigger missing home, different faces, different religions or different approaches to relationships. The main thing is that these kinds of differences for foreign people are really normal. Changes are unavoidable and can differ even from town to town. For example, just as America and Turkey are very different, so are Cortland and Ithaca. Cortland is known for its rural small town feel, versus Ithaca’s artistic, city like feeling. So every country has its own differences, and people reflect their own country’s aspects.

Culture Shock
Storti Craig. The Art of Crossing Cultures 2nd edition, 2001
Ali Can Duran

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:

your thoughts?

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?