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rich 03-29-2004 06:10 AM

Hey what's going on?

I'm a bit of a seasoned traveler myself (all through Europe, North and South East Asia, 48 of the 50 states including Alaska, and Hawaii, Indian Subcontinent, parts of Australia).
Anyway, I've always viewed travel as having great value in terms of all that is learned as a result. So I'm curious if anyone has any good stories about reverse culture shock, and lessons learned on the road (particularly as it relates to extreme travel destinations).

worldwidemike 03-29-2004 06:33 AM

Not really so sure about culture shock, in general. I know I've heard people use the term many times, and I assume it is that momentary feeling of "Wow, what's up with this place?" I think it is more of a product of noise, unfamiliar (or unreadable) signs, different language in your ear, and a general feeling of not being "grounded," or "knowing which way is up," so to speak.

An example would be to be plopped down on a street in Bangkok without a map. The noise, traffic, language would all disorient you. However, once you had a map, found the intersection you were at (so you know which way is "up" on the map), AND had an idea where you wanted to go and what you wanted to do, most of this would disappear. Then, once you've gone to a restaurant or store and successfully made a transaction, even more would disappear.

So, I think most of what people call culture shock is just temporary disorientation.

What do you guys think?


***Beady*** 03-29-2004 09:38 AM

Hmm, I mostly agree with you! It has got a lot to do with getting your bearings on a place, and getting used to the area and atmosphere.
When I went to Goa, I travelled right to the edge of Goa and went over the boarders into India. It was totally different! And, the way people were living, was a shock. Some people come away from places like that feeling very depressed, (so I hear anyway). I must say, I didn't, but I can understand and see why some people do feel like that.
I saw whole families living beside the dirt tracked roads, with a piece of corregated iron procareously balanced between two trees as a shelter. The children were very dirty, their hair hadn't been brushed or washed in what looked like weeks. I even saw a woman, who must have been about 20 take a dump/crap beside the road whilst yelling at her children!
The whole atmosphere was very shocking, but you get used it. I had past lepa sufferers coming up to me begging as they had lost certain limbs. One guy, had no legs, and only one arm, and not much clothes on, goodness knows how he got by from day to day.
There were more sites like that all around, but you honestly DO get used to it. Goa was bad for sites like that, but further into India, it was worse, I'm guessing because there is less tourist money going in.
At first yes, I suppose, it was a culture shock.

ana_seekn 03-29-2004 12:55 PM

True, it's about physical/mental orientation, but what about emotional and...dare I say it...spiritual? It's been mentioned a coupla times on these boards that travel really opens some ppl up, almost takes us outta themselves, gives us new bigger wider perspectives on life and this world in general. So, that coupled with seeing new places, people, and encountering very different ways of living/thinking/relating...what happens? I'm interested in if people have come across really different ways of life in their travels...and has an experience caused you to stand back and take a good look at your own life, the good and the bad? If you've had culture shock, did you ask yourself why - what is different that is disturbing you...? How did you integrate what you've seen out there with your life at home?

Interesting thread Rich :cheers:

rich 03-29-2004 07:28 PM


In terms of culture shock, I can remember first hearing the term (while living in Korea) but not knowing what it was even though I was reeling from it. I agree that culture shock is a disorientation that takes a little time to get used to. I have also trecked through a handfull of 3rd world countries, and had to adjust... and did.

But what about 'reverse culture shock' ~ the disorientation that comes on upon returning home after getting used to a vastly different environment. I've found this type of culture shock harder to adjust (or re-adjust) to.
Any feedback?

Carisia 03-30-2004 07:09 AM

Hey guys, this is really good topic.

I don't know... beyond the whole 'assault' on your senses type of experience... I had an interesting type of personal reverse culture shock experience....

So all my life, I lived outside my native surroundings (S. Korea). I never lived in Korea. And my family moved a lot overseas. So I'd grown so used to being different, the minority, the only Asian female, have people look at me, be unique, it wasn't necessarily a good or bad thing, it just was, and I'd learned to live with that kind of feeling and presence as part of my identity.

Well,... I finally go back to S. Korea, alone, as an adult... I get off at Kimpo airport... It is a typically hot, humid day. It's really crowded. I step outside the airport. Look all around me, the typical movement and noise of cities is going on. Suddenly I feel kind of blinded by the beaming sun, when my eyes finally adjust to the brighteness outside, I am surround by the normal crowds of people, but I'm having this really surreal experience, I'm thinking, 'wow!........ everyone looks like me...' It was super weird. It was so weird to just blend in... It had never happened to me before.... It was so nice not to stand out like a sore thumb... ;-) It was vaguely familiar, but really comfortable, a feeling I'd never experienced quite the same way before...

Well, just a few minutes later, after I'm through taking in all of this new awareness, I find myself rationalizing, 'hmmm... but I don't know if I can get used to this though, I've grown used to feeling unique!' ;-)

A different type of reverse culture shock... ;-)

Carisia 03-30-2004 07:20 AM

Hey rich, tell me about your trip to korea.

Beady, tell us about India!


worldwidemike 03-30-2004 07:37 AM

As far as travel affecting the outlook of a person once they've returned home, I agree 100%. It's kind of trite to quote a song, but one of my favorite lines from a Thomas Dolby song is, "They say that travel broadens the mind..."

I think that is so true. I think travel enables us to "pan back," to use a film term, and see a whole, wider world outside of our own former, narrow viewpoint. Travelers are less likely to be xenophobic, or scorn someone because they are "different" than average folks, I'd say. We know how it felt to be the one that was different.

Just the other day, a coworker was complaining about a guy who'd come in to buy a ticket but couldn't speak English very well. I laughed and said, "Well, I went to Spain last week and my Spanish is really weak." Whereas the coworker was faulting the guy, I was empathizing with him.

I think travelers are more prone to do this than the "average Joe..."


rich 03-30-2004 11:30 AM

Geat observations Mike. Yet the thing that irritates me (and what causes a lot of us to begin thinking of departing again) is having to deal with the bulk of the people around us carrying on in more xenophobic, ethnocentric states.
I find it a real challenge to take it all in stride. I do, and do so much better now than in the past. But I can never get the notion out of my head that most people aren't even remotely aware as to how much they are missing/missed in terms of what a healthy dose of travel/living overseas can teach them. Travel definitely broadens the mind.
So where are you guys all from?

TapSiLog 03-31-2004 02:48 AM

great thread, rich!.. :thumbup:

i agree with everyone's take on culture shock!! i lived most of my life in the philippines which as we know is a third world country so poverty, crime, corruption and whatnot are no alien to me.. i grew up with it, in fact.. so going to first world countries is where i usually get this so-called "culture shock"....simply because it's different from everything i am used to..but after being there for a while, you kinda get the hang of it and adapt to the change.. for most of it at least and racial discrimination is something i can never get used to.. :angry: :wacko:

i remember hanging out with a couple of europeans...we were just walking around the city and finally came across the botanical garden.. it was summer in australia and the sun was up.. they were so excited abt it and decided to sun bathe right at the park..and i thought, how weird is that?? :mellow: i have been under the sun all my life and it's the last thing i want!! i told them that from where i come from, people use umbrella to hide from the sun and whitening products are selling like hotcakes!! i'm not sure if they believed me though!! :no:

as for travel broadens the mind.. ahhhh!! this is a FACT that i wish i had known earlier.. i remember how enriching and interesting experience it was for me interacting with all these people from different parts of the world..hearing their views really gave me a whole new and bigger perspective on makes me appreciate life even more! ;)

tumblezweedz 03-31-2004 06:34 AM

Back in the bad old days, I spent about a month in Kiev (it was still the USSR then). I stayed with friends and they took me into the shops (with bare shelves) that most tourists didn't get to see. A few weeks later, I found myself in a Paris department store (where I could understand all that was going on around me) and after about 5 minutes started to feel panicky and got out as soon as I could find my way. While this is normal behaviour for my husband, for me shopping doesn't usually conjure up such fears! I figured out that I was just overwhelmed by the sheer "muchness" of it all. So many people, so much stuff, so many options! I think this was a kind of reverse culture shock, though I'm surprised it struck me so hard after such a short absence from "western" creature comforts.

We now live in Lithuania, I seem to have acclimatized to the uncrowded streets and a leisurely pace. At Christmas we spent a few days in Leipzig, and I was horrified at the throngs of people in the streets and stores. And that's after living in Japan and Korea, not exactly contenders for the lowest population density awards! And strangely, in both those countries, I never felt especially uncomfortable milling around in the crowds.

Having travelled a fair bit, I wonder if culture shock has much to do with expectations - there's always that initial adjustment, as so many of you pointed out, but once you get a bit oriented that tends to go away. If, however, you have expectations about a place (as perhaps I did in Germany last year, thinking it would be more or less the same - I have been there before, after all) when those expectations are not met, that can really throw you for a loop. And if you don't have enough time to adjust to the reality, that can leave you with the sense of culture shock. Maybe that's what reverse culture shock is, too - when you get back, you expect it to be the same as when you left, but not only has your home changed (time passed there, while you were gone, after all), but you too have changed and you need some time to figure out where you fit in again.

worldwidemike 03-31-2004 08:14 AM


Originally posted by tumblezweedz@Mar 31 2004, 02:34 PM
We now live in Lithuania,* I seem to have acclimatized to the uncrowded streets and a leisurely pace.
Cool, tumblezweedz, you live in Lithuania? I really enjoyed my short visit there a year and a half ago. It's a neat place.

Make sure you check out the Eastern Europe threads every so often. It seems we get regular queries about the Baltics. It's great to have a resident of them on the Boards!

Seems like you've lived a lot of places, too. Just a professional nomad, or does your job move you about?


tumblezweedz 03-31-2004 11:10 PM

Yes, it is a great place - you'd probably be amazed at how much it has changed since you were here! We've almost had a year here and it has developed so much just in that time. Entry into NATO and the EU has really kick-started things. We've got another year here, then off to somewhere else. It'll be hard to leave.

I wonder if it's a difficult place to visit for just a short time, what with the extraordinarily strange language and all? We had some language training before we arrived, which really helped a lot. Were you just in Vilnius, or did you get out to other parts of the country? I'm trying to narrow down a list of places for my parents to see when they come, but it's hard for us because we know so many places that we like - what would you recommend as your top 10?

My husband's job involves a fair bit of moving around, and we like the nomadic lifestyle (11 homes in 9 years!) We are amazed at the impact it has had on our four kids, too - never let anyone tell you that little kids are too young to appreciate and remember the things they see when travelling! Ours are forever reminding us of experiences and people from our adventures when they were just tiny. Our 6 year old remembers the rain poncho I made for her from a shopping bag when we got stuck in an unseasonable monsoon in Singapore, when she was just two years old. That wasn't the most cultural thing that we saw or did, but that memory brings back a whole flood of others and makes the whole trip so much more alive to us. And she will never forget it! Our three year old son saw a picture of Trakai on the news the other night, and immediately said, "Us been there!" He remembered our visit 6 months ago, as well as who we went with.

Some unsolicited advice, take it or leave it: Little brains are amazing. They'll take in what you offer them, so why not offer them the world?

Off to enjoy some unseasonable sunshine, and a walk through the Old Town...

worldwidemike 04-01-2004 03:59 AM

Other than a day trip to Trakei, I was pretty much in Vilnius. We had pretty big plans initially, but had to shorten them because we were travelling standby and the flights home started to fill up.

I'd say for your parents, take them on a tour of the old churches, "castle hill," and Trakei. Those are the three highlights I remember.

Your "nomadic" life sounds wonderful, with the ability to experience so many places in such an indepth way. I've always said that the best way to see a place is to live there for awhile...

Glad to have you aboard!


tumblezweedz 04-01-2004 11:10 AM

Thanks for the suggestions, I have a hard time narrowing down the list, and I tend to try to see everything, which works for me, but isn't so great for everyone!

We are really lucky to live like we do, although it has to be said that most of the places we end up are small, out-of-the-way places with little to do. We've just had a pretty good string of luck with the last couple of moves! But for me even Smalltown USA is living abroad, so I try to see it as an adventure.

Our biggest dilemma is where, and if, we should eventually settle down...

windsey 04-05-2004 03:31 AM

growing up as a japanese-american with some japanese culture, i had grown up thinking the japanese were all about being nice and polite to others (because you wanna be nice, and because it reflects on your family, and all that honor shtuff). so i thought when i went to japan, i thought i would be able to rely on locals around me to help me out if i got lost or something - now i've decided that that only applies to you if you're a white tourist. or at least not asian.

it was a couple years ago: i went to japan for the first time (i was 18). and i had to take almost a day's worth of trains in order to get from the airport to my relative's house. i didn't speak any japanese except for things like "airplane" and "apple".

i had no clue how to use the trains when i first got there and i couldn't read the signs (my directions were written out in english but the signs were in japanese characters). information was no help. they wouldn't listen to my broken japanese and they just kept pointing me to the machine even though i was trying to ask them how to use it. they just stared blankly when i tried to speak. i tried to ask for help twice from ppl standing around by pointing at my paper but they both shook their head violently and ran away (looking back, maybe they thought i was trying to scam them or sell them something). i stood in front of the ticket machine for about 5 minutes staring blankly at it, looking worried, praying someone would help. finally someone did.

i finally got to the last train station. 11 pm by now and the place was empty. i tried to call my relatives, but the phone number didn't work. i didn't want to take a taxi because i didn't know how far it was and didn't want to inconvenience my family. i tried to ask for help at the desk, but he shooed me away. i tried to ask a family walking by but they shrugged and quickly walked past me. i had been up for over 24 hours (couldn't fall asleep on the plane) and had traveled all day by train. i was tired, frustrated, alone, and now NOBODY would help me. i grew desperate... i knew this was my best option... i started crying. i knew that if i cried, somebody would help me. i cried my eyes out. :crybaby:

lo, and behold, the guy behind the desk came to me, and the family that walked by me came back. after 15 minutes of hand gestures, it turns out a number was missing. but there you go. i've had non-japanese friends go to japan and tell me how everyone around them was soooooooo nice and how everyone was soooooo helpful. well, they;re still in the dark ages about women's rights and gender roles there. and in japan, if you're a japanese woman, unless you're with people you're familiar with, you don't talk unless spoken to. plus ppl keep to themselves in public places.

apparently since i look japanese i should speak it, and if i don;t... well, "you should. so screw you. you're on your own." if i had been anything other than japanese/asian, they would have at least made sure i got taken care of (at least for the most part unless you're in tokyo or something where they might not have time for anyone), even if you speak no japanese. i had to resort to bawling to get them to even look at me. hearing from a friend who went there on a high school trip, about how his japanese host sister tried to hook up with his friend by calling him "sir" and basically prostrating herself on the floor for him. it disgusts me. i didn;t get too much interaction with the youth there, but the overall male dominance thing is still prevalent in everyday life i'm sure. things are only starting to slowly change.

i asked my mom what i would have been like if i was born in japan. would i have been like that? she said "you would have moved to america." ugh i could go into a whole thing about how in japan you're either a mother or a whore. and that's why they're so into little school girls because they're the only thing that is "clean" and yet sexually accessible (unlike mom - who doesn't really have sex). things are changing though, not everyone is like that. it's a bit revolutionary to be a big businesswoman. i'm just saying... yeah so, if you;re a white tourist, you'll have fun. they'll treat you like a god. me, however, let's just say i wouldn't visit again until i was fluent or had a bilingual friend attached to my hip. oh but it's good to know the language before you go. safe yourself the hassle of playing "what am i trying to say." they'll help you either way though.

Somnambulation 04-05-2004 01:32 PM


his japanese host sister tried to hook up with his friend by calling him "sir" and basically prostrating herself on the floor for him. it disgusts me. i didn;t get too much interaction with the youth there, but the overall male dominance thing is still prevalent in everyday life i'm sure. things are only starting to slowly change.

Damn, Japan sounds like the place to be!

worldwidemike 04-06-2004 03:59 AM

I'm sorry to hear about your experience in Japan, Windsey. Traveling can be so stressful at times, and especially so when you can't understand what is being said to you or even read the signs. I know how alone you felt that evening...I've been there myself. Of course, guys can't cry...we gotta be macho!

Anyway, I hope that bad experience doesn't turn you off of traveling...! Keep your chin up.


tumblezweedz 04-06-2004 10:06 PM

I agree, Windsey, the role of women in Japan is pretty pathetic generally. We lived there for three years, and our kids went to local kindergartens (they were fluent but have pretty much forgotten everything now, it's been pushed out by Lithuanian), so I got the chance to meet lots of families. I became really good friends with about four ladies, though I met their husbands only a handful of times in the three years. I did hear some real horror stories about the total lack of regard some men have for their wives (and kids, incidentally) but do have two positive stories to note. I did my best to emancipate Japanese women (and men, too, because the traditional way really damages them, too) in an encounter with a friend, who has two kids, a girl and a boy. She marvelled at my husband helping out around the house and with the kids, and I explained that HIS mom had made a point of teaching him 1. respect for women, especially moms; and 2. how to cook, clean etc. I then told my friend that SHE could teach her son these same things (his dad wasn't around much during the day, so would never find out until it was too late!) and he would grow up to be the most popular man in the country! She was literally speechless at this revelation! Another positive example I can offer is that of another family we met - they had four kids (extraordinary in Japan), and the husband was constantly involved with the children - he even stayed home with them a couple of times so my friend and I could go to shows in the evenings! This is almost unheard of in Japanese culture! Obviously, his mom did something right along the way!

There is an interesting side note to the whole women's status in Japan. A lot of young women are completing university, starting careers and travelling abroad these days - as a result, they're delaying marriage (which is causing consternation within the family) and when they do decide it's time to marry, they are having difficulty finding attractive men, because they aren't willing to put up with men who expect their wives to be their mothers, and a lot of the men aren't letting go of the old ways, because of course the new ones are a lot more demanding. It's really an interesting situation...

I've been lost in Tokyo's central station, and know that despair, but being white and having two babies with me obviously got me the sympathy vote that you didn't get! I'm sorry you had such a miserable experience, it's such a fabulous country. But what's up with your relatives not meeting you somewhere?!

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