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Forks, Portland, Lyon - France, Paris - France, Portland and ending up in Bellingham.... the adventures of my life!

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Culture Shock

If you are reading my blog you are either:

a.  French person curious how an American sees your country or;
b.  a student on exchange, or wanting to go on exchange or;
c.  a true expatriate, like myself, with no determined return date

In any case I just want to dedicate this page to the concepts of Culture Shock.  I went through it when I arrived in France and for those who are just arriving or have been here for awhile this will help you survive.

There are four stages in culture shock.. and it happens to those of us who are staying in a country for an 'extended' amount of time.  Each stage has different symptoms, just like when you're sick... and there are methods to aide these problems.. but first let's begin with the Culture Shock chart:

It's simplified to understand exactly what passes.. I'll go into more detail:

Predeparture Ups & Downs (Stage I)
Before preparing to move to a foreign country, your emotions go hay wire.  The fear of moving to a land where you may be considered a stranger, the mix of feelings leaving the comfort of friends and family, the excitement of discovering a new place.  All these things arise and it's almost like being a pregnant woman- sometimes you'll have uncontrollable fears and the next you are wanting to pick up an leave that instance.  I remember when I was getting ready to leave I was horrible to my mother, one day imparticular.  I yelled at her, got angry... but looking back I realize it was my own fears.
Ways to Help Predepature (Stage I HELP)
My biggest piece of advice in Stage I is to try and approach leaving logically and less emotionally.  It helped for me to make a list of everyone's addresses, research what I wanted to see or do when I got to France.  Most importantly, spend time with the people you might not see for awhile; don't feel like you are smothering them- DO smother them.  Try to create the idea of Skype in friend's minds.  Have a clear communication channel if you're leaving a relationship behind.  It will be scary, but it's an adventure.

Honeymoon Stage (Stage II)
France is so beautiful.  I love this cheese.  The men are so much more beautiful.  This is such a dream!  Honeymoon stage is just that, you find everything so fantastic and wonderful you can't even have a moment to miss home.  It's a combination of the elation from being in a new culture but also from experiencing new things- like food, friends, the language.  This is the easiet stage because you don't really need to fix it.. since everything is already fantastic in your mind.  Unfortunately, the next stage is a sudden downfall:

Culture Shock (Stage III)
This stage is the worst stage.  I have heard of some individuals that never experienced it, mostly because they had a terrible life in America and had no reason to love it more.  Even these people come around with the following words:  I can't stand how they are so stuck up.  I hate the University System.  I miss cream cheese and bagels.  WHY are French guys so CLINGY.  Suddenly all the grime and dust from the corners of the room are sticking out.  Like a relationship, that adorable habit has suddenly become the biggest pet peeve.  We want home.  It especially arrives around the holidays, or for Americans, our Thanksgiving.  My own personal view from October 2010:
It's been about 3 1/2 months since I started living here, and the past four days have indicated that I have officially hit the third state, true culture shock and acute homesickness.  I even had this thought last night that I would give anything to see my parents and my brother just once.. just a snuggle.  Just a take-out dinner in front of the television where we watch silly movies.  I am homesick.. and with that comes this indescribable anxiety, like this fear, asking myself;  how am I going to see my parents?  When will I go home next?  French language is so hard... I read like a 2 year old. 
It's then we feel the lowest and confused about what is the culture.  My brother went through it quickly in the 6 weeks he was here:
It's good to watch my 17 year old Bro go through the motions of culture shock.  He's noticing the oddest things however... there are more calories in MacDo (not true), people in France are terrible drivers (sometimes true), he is magically fluent in French when I'm not around (probably not true), everything is written in French (obviously true) and French people eat a lot of bread and weird cheeses (definitely true).
Helping Culture Shock (Stage III HELP)
In order to help with culture shock the best thing to do is to realize there is no reason to truly hate the country.  Remember the things you originally loved  when you first came over and try to imagine the things that are fabulous.  It's normal to miss home..  I was able to solve this by realizing the things I loved about France.. the friendships, the food, and used that to pull me through.  Thanksgiving is a holiday that can be done in any country.. I had mine in France.  :)  I focused on the friends I was making:
I suddenly realized that this sensation of French friendship was actually a really good thing.  They call when promised.  They invite you to their place if you invite them to yours.  They bring gifts and good wine.  When they smile- it's not an uncomfortable social smile.. it's a true smile.
Adaptation (Stage IV)
The final stage of culture shock is the one in which you find a balance.  The people that you met have begun to become close friends, you find local restaurants that you adore, the cuisine is not too foreign.. but at the same time there is always a little place in your heart that yearns for home.  This stage usually comes about 6 months to 1 year after moving.  Some people never adapt, as it takes a lot of cultural understanding and awareness... as well as moderate language skills.  A great summary of how I felt after the shock:
People have asked me, what is it like to live in France?  Well.   That's a loaded question because everyone will have a different response, for me, it's pretty f-in amazing.  I live on a street filled with restaurants so every day I leave my apartment I am welcomed with the soothing sound of plates clinking and the smells of kitchens doing prepwork.  A personal fan of restaurant television, I sometimes sit myself on the ledge of my staircase and watch the workers in the kitchen moving around frantically calling the orders.  The building I live in was built in the late 1800's, so the stairs are worn in from a couple of hundred years of climbing/descending.  The view from my windows are of other buildings from the same time period, and sometimes on Sundays one can look out the window and imagine France in the 1950's.

All in all, remember to open your mind to new experiences and ride the bad days while gliding through the good days.. la vie est belle.
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