My First Cultural Shock

Throughout my life I have experienced many different “culture shocks” or changes that I was not expecting. One example of this shock is when I went to Guatemala to study Spanish over the summer, and was thrown into a culture I had never seen or even read about. While I was reading the article, “Transition Shock: Putting Culture Shock in Perspective” by James Bennett, the author explained how individuals experience culture shock, which resonated with how I dealt with my first “culture shock” when I went to Guatemala.

When I first arrived in Guatemala, I was very confused as to what was happening, since everyone around me was speaking Spanish, which I knew known of at the time. I had a difficult time communicating and felt hopeless for the upcoming weeks I would be there, which Bennett explains as a normal symptom many people face when they enter a new place they aren’t familiar with. Thankfully when I was in Guatemala, I had traveled with a group, so it made experiencing these shocks somewhat easier, but still required me to overcome them and immerse myself within the new culture I was living in. In response to my feeling of hopelessness, I talked to some of my group mates, who helped me learn some basic Spanish for the first day, so I could understand and ask for simple things. As the first week continued, I began to  become more comfortable in the new culture by saying hello to people on the street and even ordering food and drinks for my self at the local restaurant, but not without asking my group mates first if what I was saying was correct. Though I had begun to adapt to the new culture, I was still very hesitant and reluctant to fully immerse into the new culture.

When reading the article by Bennett, the author explains how individuals have to “flex” in their new culture to adapt to it. Bennett suggests that a person who “flex” properly uses a “variety of adaptations which may be employed to reduce the dissonance in the new culture” and it will “lead us to either ‘go native’ and to submerge ourselves in the host culture, or cause us to retreat to the safety of our fellow countrymen in residence”. Many individuals when they travel abroad, usually do not “flex” well and as a result do not submerge themselves in the new culture. While I was in Guatemala though, I did submerge myself in the new culture by living with a Guatemalan family, speaking Spanish everyday, and walking around the city to meet new people. By the end of the trip I was able to go to the local bakery and order food for all my friends without needing any help.

Seeing that I was able to “flex” into the new Guatemalan culture, I was able to understand a new perspective of living that influences me even today.  One example of this is how relaxed people are on a daily basis, not being stressed over meeting times or normal stress of life that the American culture has. Since I immersed myself in the culture, I try to implement this into my life today and not to get stressed over little things in life. The experience from Guatemala has changed the way I see the world and other cultures, and I can not wait to be immersed in more cultures and countries in the future!

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