I'm a little early posting my Friday consortium post because I forgot to edit the post options, and then I couldn't figure out how to undo it! :) But at least I'm not late this week!
My first bout with culture shock came when I went to Taiwan to serve as a missionary for 16 months. There were the obvious outward cultural differences that are easily observed, such as taking off shoes before entering a house. But even these many years later, I am still learning the subtle social cultural differences. But for me, a young 21 year old girl, the language alone was a huge shock.
I had studied chinese for 2 months at our missionary training center. That may not seem like much time, but we studied all day long, and tried to speak the language as much as possible all day. We had a program called SYL, "Speak Your Language". Through this program we were encouraged to only speak the language we were learning, and then at the end of the day we would rate ourselves on a scale of 1-5 on how well we had done. This kind of immersion really does help a student to learn quickly. But we were learning an americanized accent, so were totally unprepared for the "real thing". Not only did the chinese in Taiwan sound different from our missionary training center (MTC) chinese, but our chinese sounded different to them! Mix in with that the fact that a large majority of people in Taiwan speak the "Taiwanese" dialect, and you get a whole new problem. My first three companions were chinese, and all spoke Taiwanese. I really thought I was going to have to learn Taiwanese! It took me several months to be able to understand what people were saying. THAT is culture shock!
But now here comes the weirdest culture shock. After being in Taiwan for 16 months, I had begun to see the world differently. I had heard that every 18 months your body totally reproduces every cell. So I joked that I had essentially been "made in Taiwan". That was very true when it came to my psychology. My first culture shock in returning to America came at the Dallas airport. No offense to any of you American men, but every American man that I saw in the airport looked very fat, very tall, blonde, and pasty colored. I know that not all American men are blonde, but that is the way they appeared to me after being in Taiwan with shorter, skinnier, black haired men. It was shocking to me how fat most Americans are! Trust me, I"m one of those fat citizens, but back then, it was a culture shock to see it after so many months away.
My next bit of culture shock came when I encountered carpet. In Taiwan, they usually don't have carpet, and they always take off their shoes when entering the house. They usually have house slippers they wear to keep the floors clean, but especially so if they have carpet. I remember when I came home, feeling that I could never wear shoes on carpet again!
I think for most missionaries, the first year home is the hardest when it comes to culture shock. Everything they see or hear, reminds them of something they saw or heard on their mission. Everything they do reminds them of a memory of the land where they served. It's tough to adjust to normal life again. My own children are currently serving on missions; one in Taiwan, and one in El Salvador. I know that they have already been integrated in to the cultures where they serve. They both have 6 months left before they come home. My son even wrote and said that he couldn't really remember what it is like here at home. I will be interested to see the culture shock they experience when they get home.