Autoethnography of my Cultural Exchange to the Netherlands and other travels

I have always wanted to travel, even from a young age, I was quite independent. In primary school, I started to get bullied and I wanted to go and live with my Aunty in New Zealand, this started my passion for wanting to live elsewhere which led me to student exchange research. When I was 15, my first overseas trip was to New Zealand for my cousin’s wedding. Since then travel has become a big part of my life, and I venture out of home every 6 months for the last few years.

Within 6 months of attending my cousin’s wedding in New Zealand, I was on my way to the Netherlands for Student Exchange and had my 16th birthday there a few weeks into my stay. I lived in Eindhoven which is a city in the south of the Netherlands, and this is where my new family of 4, became a family of 5.  I chose to go to the Netherlands because this is where my heritage lies. My dad’s parents immigrated to Australia from the Netherlands in 1957. I always found my heritage fascinating and I wanted to reconnect with other family members that were there as well. My Opa (Grandfather) was sick and passed away a month before I flew out, this was another reason I chose the Netherlands. When I finished year 12, I went back to see my host family and see more of my real family. One year later (November 2015), I found myself in New Zealand again, recovering from a terrible break-up. 6 months later (June, 2016), I was on an aeroplane to the USA to live in New Jersey for 2 months while I worked as a soccer coach on Summer Camps. 6 months after returning from the USA, I went to India for 3 weeks with Girl Guides where I travelled and volunteered my time in a women’s refuge (December – January 2016/2017). Winter of 2017, I found myself a job in the Snowy Mountains at Thredbo where I worked as a children’s program assistant for 2 months during the University break.  Another 6 months later, at the end of 2017 and the start of 2018, I found myself in London and back in the Netherlands for Christmas and New Years with my host family.

All these travel experiences bring me to today, where I write this autoethnography, reflecting and understanding my experiences in a greater depth. Throughout my travel experiences, I have experienced different types of shock – culture, language, role and identity. In each of my travel experiences, I made voluntary transitions into the cultures as a temporary sojourner (those who are exposed to a new environment for a short period of time), a tourist (staying abroad for short period of time to sight-see), or as an expatriate (individuals that engage in employment abroad) (Jackson J, 2014, pp. 183 – 184).  Each day of travelling presented new challenges and differences that I had to overcome to make the most of the experience. Throughout this autoethnography, I will share specific examples of culture shock and intercultural experiences that have shaped who I am today.

Culture shock “refers to the disorientation that many anthropologists often experience when entering a new culture to do field work” (Jackson J, 2014, p. 190). Goldstein and Keller (2015), defines a more simplistic definition stating “culture shock is the process of initial adjustment to an unfamiliar environment” and “the term can be used to describe the emotional, psychological, behavioural, cognitive and physiological impact of the adjustment process on the individual” (p. 188). 15826017_1458859364138629_1993925150899130690_nCulture shock was definitely something that I experienced when I landed in the Netherlands and America but India had the greatest impact of all. As I stepped out of the airport, my senses went into overdrive, the smells were not pleasant, and the sounds were foreign, loud, repetitive and irritating – I knew I wasn’t at home anymore. All my senses throughout the whole trip were heightened and it was exhausting by the end. I remember specifically being picked up from New Delhi International Airport late at night. We were greeted by our host at the terminal and walked out of the airport to find the bus that was going to take us to our hotel. The driving style of zipping in and out, not having lanes, people just walking in the middle of the road and screeching horns every two seconds was incredible. I was naturally shocked and frightened worrying about crashing and dying or that someone was going to open the back doors and steal our bags. This is only one example from my India trip where I felt out of place and shocked by the different culture. 15940870_1472050009486231_7060662925383916168_nEven though I had done a lot of research on India and spoken to many people who have been there before, nothing was going to prepare me for the rapid change in culture. Goldstein and Keller (2015) recognise that there are internal causes of culture shock which relates to identity confusion and poor stress management as well as external causes which are more common. They are the physical aspects such as language differences, communication difficulties and the physical surroundings. Since having experienced culture shock to a whole new level it has opened me up to new experiences and has shaped my personality and the way I see the world.

Munoz (2013) wrote a blog called “5 reasons why experiencing culture shock is good for you” and states that the best way to overcome overwhelming situations is to embrace the “opportunity to immerse yourself in an entirely new culture, and then emerge as a global citizen”.

Munoz (2013), “5 reasons why experiencing culture shock is good for you” are:

  1. It will shape your personality
  2. It forces you to adapt
  3. Your circle of friends will expand
  4. You’ll never be afraid of culture shock again
  5. It will teach you valuable lessons

387724_336576776366899_1113948987_n

I feel as though I had done this when I was in the Netherlands. I embraced every opportunity that was given to me, I learnt the language, went to school and even got a Dutch ID card. Some might say that I embraced the culture too much when I put on 18kg. Leaving the Netherlands was harder than leaving Australia because I had friends who actually liked me and I had built a completely new identity that I was finally happy with. This is identified by Jackson (2014), as assimilation, ‘where one does not retain their original cultural identity… instead, they seek close interaction with the host culture and adopt cultural values, traditions and norms of the new society’ (p. 188).  I adopted the transportation culture of riding a bike everywhere, even if it was pouring with rain, I would ride my bike to school like it was nothing, and then stand under the heaters for 15 minutes while I dried off and got warm again. To assist with assimilation and learning of the language, I undertook a second Dutch class instead of German and I took an English class, as well as the usual, history, geography, sport, and art. It wasn’t easy learning in a new language, but I assimilated quickly by studying extra hard so that I could communicate successfully.

Because I had assimilated to the Dutch culture, it was extremely hard to return to Australia. This is where I experienced reverse culture shock. Reverse culture shock focuses “on the stresses and challenges associated with moving back to one’s own home culture after one has sojourned or lived in another cultural environment” (Presbitero, 2016, p. 29). The culture shock of returning home was so hard, that I became severely depressed: I would only speak Dutch and I would call the Netherlands ‘home’. Presbitero (2016), also showed through research that with minimal support for returning students, they are more likely to be impacted by psychological and sociocultural aspects of their return home. He also states that individuals are more likely to feel that their overall life satisfaction and coping with the day-to-day stresses of social life is lowered (p. 29). Cornell University (nd.), recognises that reverse culture shock can be difficult in 5 ways; boredom and restlessness, reverse homesickness, no one wants to hear, relationships have changed and identity issues. I experienced all these feelings when I returned home. I would drink secretly after school, home didn’t feel like home, no one wanted to listen to the stories I wanted to share, my friendship circle at school had changed and I didn’t know who I was anymore.

The U-curve theory addresses the ‘honeymoon, culture shock, adjustment and mastery’ stages. Gullahorn and Gullahorn created the W-curve in 1963 expanding on the U-curve which assesses the re-entry of an individual into their home culture. Pritchard (2011), says that culture shock can be more difficult in returning to your own country and can often take up to 6 – 24 months to readjust as the traveller has acquired new experiences, attitudes and coping styles. Jackson (2014), recognises the W-curve model and says that struggles can come from missing ‘their independent lifestyle and friends made abroad, and [they] find it difficult to fit back into the rhythm of local life’ (p. 207). It took a good 6-18 months to settle back into school and home and to feel like me again, but even when I had re-settled, I knew that a part of me was still in the Netherlands.

Wcurve
https://www.state.gov/m/fsi/tc/c56075.ht

Since reflecting upon my experiences and learning about intercultural communication, I have been able to process the struggles that I was faced with throughout my return to Australia after studying abroad in the Netherlands and other holidays. Culture shock is always going to happen when you travel somewhere new because you’re exploring a foreign environment that you are not used to. Reverse culture shock for me is always going to happen when I return home from my travels as I always immerse and assimilate myself into the cultures that I am exploring to the best of my ability – which makes returning home difficult. Reflecting on this has allowed me to be more open with my mental health and understand that reverse culture shock is real.

References:

Allison, P Davis-Berman, J Berman, Dene., 2012, Changes in Latitude, changes in attitude: Analysis of the effects of reverse culture shock – a study of students returning from youth expeditions, Leisure Studies, vol. 31, no. 4, pp. 487 – 503.

Goldstein S, Keller S, 2015, U.S College students’ lay theories of culture shock, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, vol. 47, pp. 187 – 194.

Jackson J, 2014, Introducing Language and Intercultural communication, edn. 1,  Routledge, Oxon, pp. 180 – 213.

Munoz D, 2013, 5 reasons why experiencing culture shock is good for you, last viewed 25 May 2018, <https://www.vergemagazine.com/work-abroad/blogs/980-5-reasons-why-experiencing-culture-shock-is-good-for-you.html>.

Presbitero A, 2016, Culture shock and reverse culture shock: The moderating role of cultural intelligence in international students’ adaptation, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, vol. 53, pp. 28-38.

Pritchard R, 2011, Re-entry Trauma: Asian Re-integration After Study in the West, Journal of Studies in International Education, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 93 – 111.

Smith B, Yang W, 2017, Learning Outcomes in an Interdisciplinary Study Abroad Program: Developing a Global Perspective, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Vol. 109, no. 1, p. 43 – 50.

US Department of State, (n.d.), Reverse Culture Shock: the challenges of returning home, US Department of State Diplomacy in Action, last viewed 28 May 2018, <https://www.state.gov/m/fsi/tc/c56075.htm>.

Wu A, LaBrack B, (n.d.), Re-entry and reverse culture shock, Cornell University, last viewed 28 May 2018, <https://www.cuabroad.cornell.edu/_customtags/ct_FileRetrieve.cfm?File_ID=0E0673704F7A707272720105731F7505797C1B0C0578776B02737677700200007177057207060771>.

 

 

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