Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Culture shock

I recently skimmed down my blog, looking at all my most recent posts, and I was a little disappointed. People keep sending me messages about how much they enjoy reading about my adventures and my exciting life, but most of my most recent posts are kind of depressing, or at the very least, really deep and thoughtful. I haven't written about phallic-shaped soap or impromptu adventures in flea markets for a couple of weeks now, and I don't feel like my blog is much "fun" right now. In fact, I'm in the middle of writing a post about how Korea's education system actually makes me miss Dubya's horrendous excuse for a learning plan, and it occurred to me that I might be hitting a bit of culture shock. That's fine; I knew it was coming, and my frustrations with the school definitely count as being "shocked by the culture." But I was reading a friend's blog this afternoon, and she mentioned hitting the negotiation stage of culture shock, and I got confused. A quick search on Wikipedia provided me with something, well, shocking.

There are stages of culture shock.

Like, documented, and stuff.

Like, other people follow the same pattern I'm going through.

(It never ceases to amaze me to discover that I am, in fact, normal.)

I really shouldn't be writing this post right now; I'm supposed to be making lesson plans for a project my kids are doing next week, but I'm so flabbergasted that I had to write about it. I thought culture shock was just that moment when you see a dog wearing boots or cough drops sold as candy, but it turns out it's a whole process! Mind. Blown.

According to Wikipedia, culture shock occurs in four phases:

Honeymoon phase: There's certainly no argument that I experienced this one. From the second I got here, I fell in love with Korea and all its quirks. I loved the over-priced coffee, the smelly and confusing subway, the kimbap... everything. I loved it all, and it loved me. Korea and I seemed made for each other, and it was beautiful.

Negotiation phase: This is when the rose-colored glasses come off and you realize that things aren't the way you're used to. It's when you go to the grocery store and can't find any normal looking eggs or soup without fish parts, and it starts to annoy you. I think I'm hitting this phase, even though it's early (according to wikiwisdom). The school was cute, but now it feels stupid and obnoxious. I'd literally fight someone for access to a Wendy's, and if I accidentally walk into one more of those damn hole-in-the-floor bathrooms, my head might explode.

Adjustment phase: Apparently this is the next one I have to look forward to, and trust me, I am. This is where life starts to feel normal - not over-the-moon exciting, but not pull-my-hair-out frustrating either. I'm just hoping I hit it sooner than six months in; I don't know if I can be grumpy that long.

Mastery phase: I may not be here long enough to actually reach this nirvana-like state, but it's the end goal. It's the phase where you really feel like you belong, like you understand the culture and it understands you and you fit together.

Hopefully my blog posts remain somewhat entertaining as I stumble my way through learning a new culture. You can rest assured I'll document it all - the good and the bad - with astounding exaggeration and as many pictures as I can.

(Random thought: I wonder if marriage follows these same phases? It certainly sounds plausible. Just wait til I get married, folks. The blog's going to be hilarious... and probably the cause of my divorce.)


  1. I only spend one week in Korea but I definitely had culture shock after coming there from Sweden. In Sweden, everyone is polite and quiet... super quiet. Granted, I was in Korea with like 20000 people, a good majority from countries besides Korea, but I was suddenly surrounded by SO MANY PEOPLE and they were all loud. My entire week was negotiation because I was comparing everything to Korea... and it was monsoon season so it rained pretty much every day like a hurricane(I kind of HATE rain). I ate at McDonalds every day because the only thing they served us that I could eat was rice. I was a sad case.

    Anyways, I'm glad you're realizing where you are in the phases. Just remember each day you are in negotiation, there is another phase waiting for you. Soon enough you will come home and miss Korea and think us Americans are awful. ;)

  2. actually YES you do go through these stages in marriage, i have 3 books that tell me so. and after my first year i have to agree that they exist, despite the cheesy phd jargon and annoying superior knowledge that those authors seem to have. so you are now prepared. if you advance the way through them like you are with korea you'll beat me by miles and miles!

    I'm barely adjusting to the fact that brad wont eat breakfast after 10 am "cause it's not worth it, it's almost lunch" and picks belly button lint out of his belly button. On second thought that last one I might never adjust to lol.