Culture Shock is Real, Folks.

Now that I’ve lived in Istanbul for six months and done a WRETCHED job blogging, I’d like to regroup.

Here’s something I wrote up when I first got here and never posted:

If you have never traveled abroad, you may not have much experience with culture shock. In short, culture shock has a few phases. If your travels are for a short period of time, you may stay in the honeymoon phase. You’ll notice that things are different than home, but it seems charming and may not startle you the way that it does when you realize you’re not going home any time soon.

Call the next few stages what you will, all honeymoons must come to an end. This is when you may notice you’re irritable, exhausted, or frustrated by your dependence on others for basic needs.

As you learn to adapt to the language and lifestyle of your host country, you’ll find a great deal of peace. And then you may never want to move home… Which is another animal to deal with at a later time…

I wrote this up for myself after I recognized how bad my culture shock was VERY shortly after my arrival. I had been to Turkey before, so I don’t think I set myself up for how difficult MOVING to Turkey could really be. Afterall, I had studied abroad in college for a year. Wasn’t that the same thing? No. Not at all. But let’s save that for another post.

I didn’t really experience culture shock till I had lived in Austria for two or three months. When I moved to Turkey, culture shock hit hard within a few days. During my orientation week, I found myself sobbing in a classroom at my new school in front of some woman I had never met right before she was about to make a presentation.

“I can’t speak Turkish.”

“I don’t know how to use my washer.”

“My cat won’t use her litter box.”

“Why doesn’t anyone use the sidewalk?”

“I could cook at home. How come my cooking is terrible here?”

Luckily, this woman calmly told me, “Hannah. You just got here. You don’t have to have everything figured out right now.”

Why did I get so overwhelmed during the first week?

– I left my family back in the States during a VERY stressful time. I felt I was needed at home.

– When I arrived in Turkey, it was like, “Here’s your apartment. See you at the bank for orientation tomorrow!” …Wait…Where’s the bank?…How come I can’t get into my phone?…I can’t find my way home…

– “Let’s work!” We arrived three weeks before school started and had orientation all but maybe two or three of those days. I thought, “How am I supposed to concentrate on my job if I don’t know where to buy toilet paper?”

– I had never worked for an IB school before. I felt like I was supposed to be teaching or planning differently. I wanted to feel like I was doing my job the right way.

– During those three weeks of orientation we had very little plan time. Again, this made me feel ill prepared for the first few weeks in a new job.

– I tried to set up a way to accomplish all my goals and activities before I had gotten comfortable. I wanted a gym membership. I wanted Turkish clarinet lessons. I wanted to learn to cook Turkish food. I wanted to learn the language.

I’m glad that the group of new teachers I entered with all talked about culture shock very openly. Had I not had a group of people to talk to, I’m not sure I would have snapped out of it as smoothly. They helped me realize that what I NEEDED to do was relax, wander around my neighborhood, meet new friends, and do my job the best I knew how. I NEEDED to recognize that my principals trusted me and that other people were experiencing the same feelings. Most importantly, culture shock is a revolving door. You can move back and forth between each phase again and again for as long as you live abroad. 

Culture shock is real, folks. When you move abroad, talk about what you’re feeling and experiencing. Chances are, it’s completely normal. And knowing that it is normal is half the battle.

Find a hobby and some balance between doing your job well and falling in love with your new home. Everything will be just fine. Enjoy the adventure!

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