Imagine going over to a distant relative’s house for Christmas Eve. You show up with warm hopes of glad tiding and joy to the world. However, instead of warm soup you eat Doritos and cheese wiz, Santa wears neon green, and “Come all Ye Faithful” is replaced with 2000s era hardcore screamo music. You might feel just a little bit…shocked?
Culture shock is an expected acquaintance living overseas that shows up to remind you you’re a foreigner and simply getting a haircut is a daylong task that could trigger anxiety and frustrations. I definitely went through it, just read some of my earlier posts! It’s real, not always fun, and, as I discovered recently, far from reserved just to western expats.
Meet Harry. Harry is a Sudanese friend that has been in this country for about 6 months. Not only is 6 months usually an expected time period to feature a fresh wave of culture shock, but Harry’s 6 months fell into the middle of the month of Ramadan, the Muslim world’s equivalent to Christmas in terms of holidays. Ramadan in this country fell remarkably short of Harry’s expectations.
Maybe he expected community, piety, and familiar foods similar to his home country; after all he is still in the Muslim world. What he discovered was startling isolation, people taking advantage of him, and more street food than he was proud of. Harry came to visit us and our Sudanese roommates a few days ago to celebrate the end of Ramadan, and I couldn’t help but see some of myself in how he expressed his frustrations with culture and unmet expectations.
We had a good time together, and even made a trip to the park. Green trees and grass can heal the soul when you’re stuck in the desert. Culture shock is never fun, but it is inevitable. It comes and goes and effects everyone to varying degrees, yes, even those whose culture is far closer to the majority than ours.