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 had become a big part of my life, venturing 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 you stepped out of the airport, your senses went into overdrive, the smells were not pleasant, and the sounds were foreign, loud, repetitive and irritating – you knew you weren’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 that 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 “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

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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, I had friends that 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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The Bullies Never Leave: They Haunt

When I was young, I was bullied. I’m not sure why I think it was because I was ugly. I had buck teeth as a kid that were too big for me until senior year, and I had freckles that stood out.
I think it’s because I wasn’t cool enough or daredevil enough.
But I don’t really understand what separated me from the group of ‘friends’ that I thought I had.
Who knew at the age of 8 if someone was cool or not. I really don’t get it.
There was no technology that separated us like there is today, it wasn’t about who had the coolest or the most recent phone, they didn’t exist back then.

I left those bullies behind in primary school as we all separated and went our own ways, made our own new friends, but somehow, I was still the victim of bullying.
I was constantly left out, made fun of, and nasty comments were always made at me.

I was pushed and shoved in the playground, I was called horrid words and I was the subject of bullying.

There are things that never leave you, even when you’re 23 years old, 5 years out of high school and you still get flashbacks to the moments that haunted you the most.
The moments that defined your high school years, that made you lose your lunch breaks because you felt obliged to knee down to those above you.

Years down the track and the words that were said to me in primary school and high school still terrorise me to this day.
The images replay in my mind and the words play over and over on repeat. They bring me down still to this day that I don’t ever want to face those bullies again, to the point that I’m scared to go to the shops some days purely because I am worried I will see them from afar.

One day, I hope the bullies read this and realise how much of an impact they played in those peoples lives that they bullied.
The trauma doesn’t just leave you in high school when you go your separate ways, the memories stick with you and it affects you for the rest of your life.
I wish I had happy memories to take with me from high school, but unfortunately, the bad ones cloud over the few sun shining moments.

I hope that one day, you realise how cruel you were by the little things you said. I hope you realise that you hurt not only me, but everyone else that bowed down to you and you pushed out of your way.

Because of you, I now have the anxiety to meet new people because I don’t have the coolest clothes or the fastest car. Because of you, I feel like I don’t fit in, anywhere, even when I do, I have a voice in the back of my head telling me that they don’t like me and that I don’t fit in.

You may think that your words meant nothing, but I still remember every word that was said, I still remember every tear that was shred.

I hope that one day you read this and show your own children, so they never have an impact on someone’s life like you did on mine.
They should create sunshine for those, even on the darkest of days.

I am nothing more than a withered flower trying to come back to life.

Every thorn I grew from you, now protects me from whom lies ahead.

Image result for withered flower

It’s okay not to be okay

Today is the start of my mental health blog. It’s going to be about my story, and my therapy solutions while I battle depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress (PTSD). These disorders aren’t disorders – sometimes people do you wrong and hurt you, leave you in pieces on the floor and walk all over you instead of picking you up.

I’m going to write about different things that have happened in my life that has impacted how I got to where I am today. From coming home from overseas and being overweight, losing friends, heartbreaks, sexual assault, to everyday pressures in my life that I encountered, I am slowly and willingly going to share my story with all of you to read. Bear with me as this will not be easy, it will take some time. Some things might be confronting, somethings might make you laugh, cry and leave you feeling numb. Some may even help you if you’re looking for solutions.

The amount of healing I have tried, failed and tried again is crazy. I am finally finding solutions that work after 7 years of therapy, 3 psychologists, a break down which led to hospitalisation, medications, psychiatrists and having a constant support from the Community Mental Health Team in Campbelltown, things FINALLY (slowly but surely) are working out day by day. Not every day is better, some days are worse and although they may be inconsistent, I have to remember every day is a new day, be patient and practice what I have been taught over the years.

Today is the first day that I am going to admit that I am not okay.

This is my story.

 

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