Benefits and stories of culture shock

Abstract Culture shock is not good or bad, it is a natural process, affecting anyone living, working or studying overseas. It may be challenging for you to overcome culture shock at first, but if you succeed you will enjoy your life in the new country. Factually, culture shock can bring you various benefits. Firstly, you can gain lots of traditions, customs, rules of behavior and values in the new country. Secondly, while you try to adapting and adjusting yourself to the new country, you are certain to be more adaptable and open-minded, which help you a lot in your work and life in the new country. Lastly, your views of the world and people have been broadened and the way you communicate and treat people is also improved because you know how to respect and be polite to others. To illustrate more about culture shock, eight examples of culture shock are mentioned and discussed. These culture shock stories are experienced by people working and learning in foreign countries.

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Thông báo Khoa học và Công nghệ Information of Science and Technology Số 2/2016 No. 2/2016 196 BENEFITS AND STORIES OF CULTURE SHOCK MA. Mang Tran Thu Thuy Foreign Language – Informatics Center, MienTrung University of Civil Engineering Abstract Culture shock is not good or bad, it is a natural process, affecting anyone living, working or studying overseas. It may be challenging for you to overcome culture shock at first, but if you succeed you will enjoy your life in the new country. Factually, culture shock can bring you various benefits. Firstly, you can gain lots of traditions, customs, rules of behavior and values in the new country. Secondly, while you try to adapting and adjusting yourself to the new country, you are certain to be more adaptable and open-minded, which help you a lot in your work and life in the new country. Lastly, your views of the world and people have been broadened and the way you communicate and treat people is also improved because you know how to respect and be polite to others. To illustrate more about culture shock, eight examples of culture shock are mentioned and discussed. These culture shock stories are experienced by people working and learning in foreign countries. Key words Culture shock; benefits of culture shock; stories of culture shock; advantages of culture shock; culture shock examples It is very common for all people to hear the phrase “culture shock”, however, not many people really understand what culture shock really is. To understand more about culture shock, some materials including articles, videos, studies, researches and stories of various people from some different websites are consulted. To help people understand more about culture shock, in this paper, significant benefits are discussed and some culture shock stories are told. 1. Benefits from Culture Shock It is important to stress that culture shock is entirely normal, usually unavoidable and not a sign that you have made a mistake or that you won’t manage. In fact, there are very positive aspects of culture shock. After recovering from culture shock, you certainly gain a lot of benefits in terms of understanding culture in a new country in comparison with your own culture, being more adaptable and open-minded, developing your communication skill and broadening your view of world. Firstly, to adjust to the new environment successfully, you have to acquire wide knowledge of culture in the new country; the knowledge is perceived in comparison with the basic understanding of your own culture. In the other word, after the process of adjusting to the new environment, you have understood various traditions, customs, rules of behavior and values there. Furthermore, by comparing all the knowledge of culture you gain with one in your own country, you can distinguish the differences and find out the similarities which are very useful for you in the process of working or learning in future. Thông báo Khoa học và Công nghệ Information of Science and Technology Số 2/2016 No. 2/2016 197 Secondly, you are certain to be more adaptable and open-minded after the process of adapting and adjusting to the new country. It is undeniable that you have tried your best to adjust yourself to be more and more familiar with the life there. You change your eating habit, your fashion, your hobbies, your way of communicating and establishing many new relationships with various people. In other word, you life changes considerably and you still enjoy it so much. To obtain these changes, you must be an open- minded person. Although in the beginning, you may be a close-minded person or at least are not tolerable of other cultures right away, you are made to change your points of view and your ways of living. Without these changes, you are not able to live and work in the new country happily. Due to all the difficulties in your new life such as the barriers of language, the lack of cultural knowledge and the effects of negative feelings, you tend to become an open-minded person to enjoy your life more. Lastly, your views of the world and people have been broadened. From all difficulties you have overcome and from all the cultural knowledge you have gained, your points of view about the world and people are better. You know more about the customs, rules of behavior, values and traditions of the host country and of other countries in the world through communicating with international people in comparison with the ones in your own country. This helps you to improve the critical thinking. The way you look the world seems to be better and more optimistic. More importantly, the way you communicate and treat people is also improved. You have realized that different people have different ways of thinking and ways of living mainly because of the influence of their culture. Their behaviors are not true or false; they are different because these people grow up in different countries and inheriting different values, customs and traditions. Thanks to these changes in the view of the world and people, you can improve communication skills and establish important relationships with various kinds of people. These skills and relationships are considered to be good for you to succeed in work and life in the future. In conclusion, when you have overcome culture shock, you become an experienced person. All the experiences and knowledge you gain will become beneficial to you sooner or later. In your work, in your life or even in your family, these experiences may help you to be successful and maintain an enjoying life. 2. Stories of Culture Shock A lot of experiences and stories of people ever experiencing culture shock from various countries in the world are searched in the Internet, however, in this paper, only some significant and practical stories will be stated and discussed. Although these stories are from different people in different countries, most of them are from Vietnamese people living and studying or working in America. The first story, extracted from the website ck.htm, is an experience of an international student when coming and learning in Japan. Years ago when I first went to Japan, I had the shock of my life at a public bath. As you might know, people bathe in a shower area and then get into a large hot bath without any clothing or bathing suit on. At the end of my bath, I was greeted by an elderly woman cleaning the men's dressing room. Since you would never encounter such a situation in my culture, the discrepancy between my culture and my experience in Japan conflicted with my expectations, and thus, I felt very out of place. From my perspective, she shouldn't have been Thông báo Khoa học và Công nghệ Information of Science and Technology Số 2/2016 No. 2/2016 198 there, and at the least, she could have waited until I was completely dressed. In Japan, it is normal for an elderly woman cleaning the men’s dressing room to come to the room and do their job. She does not care about who you are and what you are wearing or nothing because she just does her job. And, it is no need for you to be shocked or astonished. You should behave as if there was nobody. The second story, extracted from the website /lifestyle/old/lifes98/france/index.html, is an experience of an American junior studying in Korea. While we were sitting there in the park, one guy threw away his cigarette butt in the lake. Obviously, it would contaminate this beautiful and shiny lake. The colorful goldfish would continue to die because of it. I asked him, “Hey! What are you doing? Why did you do that?” “What? How old are you?” the guy said. “I think I am younger than you,” I said. “Ha! Then just stay quiet. It’s none of your business. I think you are really rude!” “What? Hey, think about the goldfish! Are you going to be happy if I throw a cigarette butt at you?” He reviled me, and he tried to hit me. I couldn’t understand why he was angry like a mad dog. My friend persuaded him and me to calm down. I was really angry, so I just left that place. Later, my friends asked me: “Hey! Why did you do that?” “What? What did I do?” “You shouldn’t do that. He is older than you!!” “What? He was wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong!” “This is Korea. Even though he was wrong, you shouldn’t blame him.” This situation happens because of the cultural differences. In America, people feel free to say anything to anyone despite the age. The younger can discuss problems openly with or even give advices to the older. The situation in the Korea, on the other hand, is completely different. You can only give advices, orders or express criticism to ones who are younger than you. It is regarded as impolite for you to criticize ones who are older than you and you have no right to do so. The third story, extracted from the same source as the second one, is a story of a French student studying in America, below are his feelings at the first time being there. First of all, I have found that in terms of studies, there is much more work here than in France. I had never faced such an amount of work during the three years I had spent at my university. I had even studied American literature, but did not have as many books to read as I do now. For example, my Women Writers class requires at least six books, not counting the excerpts. I have read many novels, and written many essays on them, but I think what I have to do here is at least five times as much as what I did in France. The classes here are also smaller, which could make them more interactive. But they aren't because most students do not try to study together. This would allow those who understand quickly to help those who do not, but instead each student works alone. What I find fantastic is how the professors are more approachable here than in France. The students can easily communicate with them during their office hours without an appointment and through e-mail. The professors really care a lot for their students, especially for me since they know that it sometimes can be difficult for me to understand everything. I really appreciate their attitude because it has helped me a lot. It has been hard to get used to American food. Most of the time people Thông báo Khoa học và Công nghệ Information of Science and Technology Số 2/2016 No. 2/2016 199 eat sandwiches or salad and drink soda. When I went to the dining hall for the first time, I was completely lost. I did not know the name of some of the menu items presented to me. I tried to ask the cooks how the food was prepared, but I was not satisfied by their answers. I tried to eat, but it was sometimes frustrating for me to eat what I did not know for sure. Sometimes I was really hungry, but I did not want to eat. The forth story, extracted from the same source as the second one, is an experience of a Colombian boy going to Chile with his family. His problem is due to the difference in the use of slang. He and his father have to try to explain to a waiter what they want but finally, they have to use their body language to make the waiter understand. I moved from Colombia to Chile with my family a couple of years ago, and despite both being spanish-speaking countries, the slang greatly varies. Particularly, our word for straw ("pitillo"), can be interpreted as a diminutive of Chilean slang for joint ("pito"). On our first night out at a fancy restaurant to celebrate my dad's relocation: Me: "Excuse me waitress, could I get a joint? (straw)" Waitress: "Umm... sorry, what?" Me: "A joint, I just want a little joint" Waitress looks at my dad Dad: "Didn't you hear the kid? Get him a joint!" Waitress: "I'm sorry... I don't think we do that here." Dad: "Come on! It’s a joint, how hard can it be?" We start realizing she might be misunderstanding us. Dad: "It’s a joint!" We both pretend to hold our fingers in front of our mouths and inhale to simulate a straw... The fifth story is cited by Quang (1998). According to him, the Italian and the American has differences points of view in politics. The Italian tends to have strong political statements while the America seems to avoid this topic in public. The Italian made a strong political statement with which he knew his American friend would disagree. The Italian wanted to involve the American in a lively discussion. The American, rather than openly disagreeing, said, “Well, everyone is entitled to an opinion. I accept that your opinion is different than mine.” The Italian responded, “That’s all you have to say about it? In general, the American did not enjoy verbal conflicts over politics or anything else. The Italian actually became angry when the American refused to get involved in the discussion. He later explains to the American, “a conversation isn’t fun unless it becomes heated” (Quang, N, 1998: 40) The sixth story, extracted from the website 8/28/culture-shock-benefits-and- drawbacks/, is about a Vietnamese person living in China. She tried to be familiar with the eating habit of Chinese and she succeeded. When I first came to China I had a big culture shock. My culture shock was when I saw the food in china. They ate reptiles like frogs and lizards and snakes. I though it was disgusting and crazy that a person would put something like that in their mouth. I almost barfed when I saw people eat these reptiles, dog or cat but then my body said I would have to eat these sometimes so I tried some and they were not as terrible as I expected. The seventh story, extracted from the same website as the first one, is about the experience of a Vietnamese student learning in America. The picture of the American life in her mind and in reality is completely different and this creates her shock. Thông báo Khoa học và Công nghệ Information of Science and Technology Số 2/2016 No. 2/2016 200 Before I came to the U.S for school, I pictured that everything in the U.S was extra large. In my imagination, everyone was overweight, meals were big, and clothes were huge. I even thought I could only fit in kids' shirts and underwear. But that was only my imagination. When I first came to NWS, I was shocked by the size of the school; one single building with only three floors? And there were fewer than 500 students in total? Before I saw the building, I thought I would have to run between classes so that I could get to the next class on time. I was wrong. Then I stepped into the dormitory, and met my little 15 year-old roommate. We met upstairs to find our room. Oh my god! The room was so tiny that I could reach the two ends within three big steps. I didn’t have a choice; I could only bear with it. I even teased myself, “I was wrong about the XXL image of America.” Surprisingly, things worked out very well. Being in a small school helped me to know almost everyone in school and build close relationships with the teachers. Small class sizes gave me the opportunity to express myself in class. In the little dormitory, in the tiny bedrooms, I built my deepest friendship with my roommate and dorm-mates. Although my impression was wrong, I was glad that it was wrong. The eighth story, also from the same source as two ones above, is the experience of a Vietnamese student coming America for the first time. The misunderstanding happens due to his inability of using appropriate language. I still remember that three years ago, when I first came to the U.S., everything was new to me. When at the airport, I tried to look for my host mom. When I met her, she immediately asked, “Do you want to use the bathroom?” Since I was taught the word “toilet” instead of “bathroom”, I was confused by what she was asking. I thought bathroom meant shower room, and I replied, “I forgot to bring shampoo and soap!” Although it sounds stupid now, culture shock was everywhere when I first got to this new place. From a forum of Vietnamese students learning in English-speaking countries, some small and practical stories are collected and edited below. The first story: a Vietnamese student studying in America is introduced to some new friends. As a habit, she asks one of the new friends: “How old are you?” to be convenient in addressing her. However, the American student seems to be strange and astonished by the question. She smiles and has no answer. In this situation, the Vietnamese student has given an unsuitable question because in America, it is impolite to ask primacy questions such as questions related to salary, age, physical appearance, material status whiles in Vietnam, it is common for everyone to ask about other’s material status or age at the first time. The second story: A Vietnamese student studies in America. Students are from many countries in the world. Once day, an Australian student invited some students in class to go to his house for dinner. He reminded, “Bring your own plate”. The Vietnamese student misunderstood that he asked her to bring a plate to his house for dinner and she was wondering why he asked her to bring a plate. Then, she asked a Japanese student who was also invited the meaning of his sentence. She said that a plate here meant something to share with everyone such as fruits, wine or cake, etc. The Vietnamese student was shocked because in Vietnam, if you are invited for dinner, you do not need to bring anything. If you bring something, the host tends to be embarrassed and says that you needn’t have done this. However, in this situation, the Vietnamese student is reminded to bring something to share. Thông báo Khoa học và Công nghệ Information of Science and Technology Số 2/2016 No. 2/2016 201 The third story: The first time, a Vietnamese student in America, has difficulty in dealing with addressing her teacher. She hesitates in calling their first names. In Vietnam, it is common to put “teacher” or “professional” before their names and she thinks she should precede Mr., Mss, Dr or Professor before their names but she realizes that other students usually call their first names when addressing them. She shares her story with one of her friend who gets married with an American man. She is also embarrassed when calling her mother-in-law’s first name. She wants to call her “mum” but her husband does not agree. He says, “It is my mum, not your mum. Only I call her “mum” not anyone else”. And when my friend has baby, she calls her mother-in-law “mama”. In English, it is rather simple to address someone, you just call them “you” despite their age, position or status whiles in Vietnam, it is rather complicated to address someone. You have to base on their age, their status and their social position to address them. For example, you cannot call your sister or your uncle by their first names; it is supposed to be insolent because they are older than you. You have to use a title plus their first names like chị Hoa, chú Toàn. To call your teacher, you should use the title thầy, cô plus their first names such as thầy Tuấn, cô Hạnh. It is the way the younger person calls the old