Tag Archives: culture shock

Differences and Similarities from my Own Experiences

By Yuyin Ning

A peek inside

A peek inside

Disintegration Stage: As the euphoria of the “newness” wears off, the perceive negative reality of the host culture begins to affect the student in an uncontrollable way. Confusion, tension and frustration are then mixed with a student’s desire to attempt to “fix” problems in the host culture. An overwhelming feeling of despair and hoplessness is often described, with thoughts of self-blame and hopelessness.  (Pedersen, 1995; Stonebanks, 2013, p264)

As planned, we had the chance to observe some classes at Chilanga Sighted Elementary School. The First class was a Standard Five Class. The moment we showed up in the classroom, all the students stood up and said: ” Good morning Sir.” We smiled and answered back:” Good morning, students.” The headmaster said something in Chichewa (local language) and arranged for us to sit at the back of the classroom. Class started. Not surprisingly, many of students kept staring at us now and then. I ignored them, and there was a kind of similarity rising up. I was pretty sure the same thing would happen if some “asungu” (foreigners) showed up in my elementary school.

The feeling of similarity showed up in my mind a couple times when I was eating “Nsima” (a local food made by corn flour and water); when I saw the chicken or goats running around; and when I was watching the beautiful starry sky. I grew up in a small village in China. I didn’t think of my early childhood experience often until I got here.

I looked around the classroom. There were about 50 students sitting on the ground sharing seven English books. They sat in circles with the English book in the middle. Each group had about 6-12 students. The teacher was talking in front. I couldn’t hear clearly. A lot of people were gathering outside of classroom, waiting for the procedure of getting national IDs. Their voices came into the classroom directly from the window without glass. I couldn’t see clearly. The black board was in really poor condition. It was very hard for students to concentrate on the class. Not to mention too that some classes were given outside of the classroom since there was not enough classrooms in the school.

The English class session lasted for about 30 minutes. The students were reading the paragraph in the textbooks. The teacher was very encouraging them to read and answer questions by saying: “Try it!” “Thank you for trying.” Therefore, the students were all willing to answer questions by raising up their hands and clipping their fingers to show their eagerness. Despite the very poor environment, the teacher was trying her best to create a safe and secure English learning environment for children.

After class, we had a very short talk with the teacher. She mentioned that for the students learning English, it was very difficult for them to comprehend some concepts that are not familiar to them, such as the word “pub”. There is no electricity in the school. The only way is to draw on the paper. The study resources are too limited here. I totally understand what she means. When I was learning English, a similar thing happened to me. I understood what the word “bus stop” meant literally, but I couldn’t comprehend it. Because there is no bus in my village, and the bus in the town stopped whenever we waved our hands to it.

The fact of the limited resource here makes me really upset. Everything about us is new to them, who we are, where we from, what kind of food we eat, what kind of life we have. The simplest life back in Canada is something far beyond their imagination. I thought about their situation and the reason behind of it, the government system, the education criteria, the teachers development. Is there anything we can do here? In every school, you can see “The future is in education” on the wall. The rest of the schools are on strike because of the absence of holiday pay from the government. Obviously, it is complicated with what it said on the wall and what is reality.

In the five stage of culture shock: honey moon, disintegration, reintegration, autonomy and interdependence. I am in the second stage: “disintegration”.

Stage Two

By Ashwini Manohar

Inside the Tuck Shop

Inside the Tuck Shop

Lying in bed on my second night in Malawi, I decide that I had spent all five weeks of my last trip here in the honeymoon stage of culture shock, because it occurs to me that this is what disintegration feels like. I am officially in stage two of culture shock, and unequivocally miserable.

So listless I am, in fact, that words like ‘excited’ and ‘happy’ and ‘hopeful’ have been expunged from my vocabulary. Everything is grey. My limbs weigh a ton. I kick dust when I walk, not because I want to, but because I’d rather drag my feet around than lift them. The mattress I slept on last year (which I loved) is now too thin, and I wake up with my shoulders and hips aching. The food is now too greasy. Why is everything fried? My feet, perpetually caged in hiking boots, are hot and damp and entirely uncomfortable. I break the rules and walk around with flip flops in the hostel one evening. I sigh a lot. I frown a lot. I worry about impending wrinkles from all the frowning and UV damage. I slather my skin in more sunscreen than I need, more times during the day than necessary. I’m a quarter of a century old. I think about Botox. I feel sad. My stomach makes awful noises. I dig out my makeup case from my luggage and spend fifteen minutes every morning putting on foundation, mascara, lipstick and filling in my eyebrows. I feel a little better. Temporarily. I’m bloated and gassy.

I’m such a walking caricature of privileged misery that even in the depths of it, I realize how ridiculous I must look to someone on the outside. This is like the anguish Kim Kardashian must feel when she breaks a fake fingernail. Or so I imagine.

I walk around to the tuck shop the very same day we arrive on campus. This was my project last year.

The shelves are gnarly and twisted, and there is barely anything on them. The walls look like someone has trickled watery poop all over it. The counter is half the size it used to be.

There was heavy wind and rain I was told and the roof tore off. We had termites everywhere, it was so humid in here that things started spoiling. We fixed the roof and I spent my own money to buy termite repellent to spray everywhere. Then I was told people said, “Asha’s coming, we’ll wait, she’ll fix it.”

No, I almost scream. This is your community tuck shop. Why were you waiting for me? What if I hadn’t come back this year?

Smiles but there is no answer at this point.

Here We Go Again!

By Mark Freedman

Kasungu Mountain off in the distance

Kasungu Mountain off in the distance

Culture shock. It is a process we all go through when introduced to a foreign situation. It can happen to you if you’re from the country and just visiting the ‘big city’ for the first time, or if you travel to another part of the world where everything is different, the culture, the norms, the taboos, the way of life…literally just about everything. Well, such is a fact even when travelling to Malawi for the second time. Generally, there are five stages of culture shock, the honeymoon stage, disintegration, reintegration, autonomy, and interdependence (Pederson, 1994). I use the term generally as my way of describing how there is some give within the constraints outlined by these five stages. I imagine culture shock as if it were a mountain, where the climber goes through the excitement of a new hike before starting, looking up at the beautiful struggle ahead. Then throughout the hike, the climber sees all these new things, the trees, possibly animals, and all the way to the top, there are positives along the way, something that you can look at while you are getting tired half way through the climb and you think to yourself  “hey, this is still worth it, when I get to the top I’ll be able to enjoy it in the moment and for the rest of my life”. Feelings and aspects associated with each stage of culture shock, I believe, can be evident throughout the entire journey. However I can’t be certain for the fact that I believe I won’t reach some of the later stages of culture shock as they may take consecutive months to develop while living or being in a situation that is unfamiliar.

When we first got to the campus a few days ago, it felt familiar, everyone from the community that has become involved with TPM over the years was there to greet us, and coming back for the second time, it was nice and comforting to see the familiar faces and receive a personal greeting. The campus looks great. There is a new security house, a new addition since last year, the soccer pitch has grass on it, which school boys from the community got together to make possible. And seeing Kasungu mountain from the campus was definitely a honeymoon stage moment, having hiked it last year. But I have also already had moments where I’ve felt like a kid out of place.  Just yesterday we went into town and while at a shop I was gathering the money I had put aside in my pocket; keep in mind this is Malawian Kwachas (the local currency) I’m talking about. So, while I gathered the bills, all of which were different denominations, and took them out of my pocket, I began to count, and hand the cashier money, and count, and hand him more change, and count again.  Quickly I became flustered and was in a sort of shock where I just didn’t know what to do. It turned out that I didn’t give him the right amount, even though I counted about three times. I goofed, for lack of a better term. The feeling that ensued shook me a bit, but I realize that this moment was a moment of culture shock, being in an unfamiliar situation and not knowing what to do. But I feel I have definitely improved in getting to know the culture here, improving my cultural competence, if you will. In that sense, I definitely feel more comfortable in engaging with the locals Malawian’s especially with the few who know me from last year.

I will say this though, no matter the occasional feeling of being flustered, or shook by something, so far there is always an equal or greater moment of joy and hominess.

Assist Instead of Help

By Natchisiri (Froy) Kunaporn (Bishop’s)

Assist instead of helpBeing surrounded by the luxury of the hostel, I can definitely feel the isolation from the reality outside the ‘bubble’. A wonderful chef feeds us, there are a couple of women who do our dishes and laundry, and the hostel is constantly being cleaned. I try to be very helpful by fetching bath water (and showering cold!), doing my delicate laundries and some small dishes. I find myself being very careful not to do too much that it seems like I am taking their jobs away. The women here use the word ‘assist’ instead of help. They want to assist us and want our assistance; we all learn better that way.

Because of early nights and early mornings, my dreams lately have been very vivid. Walking out of campus is like snapping out of one. Almost like a sudden feeling of falling, or a slap in the face. When outside, the living conditions of many villagers are bittersweet to see. Even though most villagers I’ve passed have sincere painted smiles on their faces, nearly everyone had no proper footwear, ripped clothes, and drippy noses. Already coming from where poverty is very saturated, I try to accept what I see. Using a model that describes the five stages of culture shock (Pederson, 1995), I find myself struggling back and forth between the Honeymoon stage and Disintegration stage (anger at self). Sometimes it’s blissful and sometimes I get snapped back to the horrifying truth about life of many who are living right at our doorsteps.

But I guess truth is not always horrifying. When a colleague of mine was feeling guilty about the help she was receiving from the villagers, a Malawian lady said to us that they are so proud to ‘assist’ us. As long as we do our parts, it will all add up in the end. She also told us that people here have no choice but to be happy, because they know that life is short, and that they have no time to sit down and feel sad about the unfairness of luck. If people can choose where they want to live, some places may even be deserted. Being alive is enough push to keep people striving. ‘We can’t be sad forever because we know that life is going to end one day’. That kind of attitude is what I imagine stage four, Autonomy (acceptance) will be like. I think I am on my way.

Just Like You

By Taylor Lowery (McGill)

Just Like YouUnprepared, but totally authentic. I had just finished writing a to-do list when I walked past the community center and was greeted by a group of adolescent boys. I asked one of their names, as one generally does upon first meeting, and thought to write down what I heard. Suddenly about 15 kids crowded around and I had them say their name and repeat it back to them to clarify. Then I wrote down what I heard phonetically. Mostly they just laughed because I have probably said something ridiculous, such as “I eat my fingers for lunch.”100’s of times I repeated and they laughed or they nodded, or the older ones even took the pencil from me and wrote their names properly. That chorus of laughter is ingrained in my mind now; their laughs and those smiles.

I think I have gained a companion on that day. She sat beside me the whole time and corrected my pronunciation, breaking it up into syllables for me. She was very patient and always cushioned her feedback with a smile, giving me permission to smile back. This game of “help Taylor remember your names” was played for an hour. Different kids coming in and out of the huddle, more laughs and smiles, and still that little teacher by my side. We played until my paper was full of names written in every different direction and all different handwriting.

I could tell that these were patient kids and so eager to be a part of the learning process. But mostly, I could tell that this pencil I had in my hand was a BIG deal. And of course, so was my skin colour.

Forward to the next day- this experience still in my mind and my overwhelming feelings of privilege standing strong. I had a conversation with a young mother, whose child I had met the day before. I asked her how receptive she would be to send her 10 year old to an after school program run through Praxis Malawi. When she seemed open to the idea I asked what she might like her daughter to learn at this program. She thought for a second and then responded, “I would like her to learn to be just like you.” I smiled, slowly said “we will see what we can do,” and she left. And I started to cry. Not knowing exactly what was meant by her request, I could only think to interpret it as, “I want you to give my child the same opportunities that you seem to have, to be here and to have all these great things happening to you.” Or maybe she just meant that she wants her daughter to speak English, or to be inquisitive, confident, educated or… maybe she meant to be white. Whatever her meaning, the task seemed impossible. I am the way I am because I was lucky enough to be born into a world where nothing was out of reach; a world where I always had access to a pencil.

It is possible I am extrapolating, as in the moment I didn’t have the emotional capacity to clarify what she meant by “be just like you” but for some reason, this beautiful compliment was wrapped in such sadness. I am told that this feeling is understandable and as prescribed in the steps of culture shock I am smack dab in the middle of the Disintegration phase (Pedersen, 1995). The excitement of our first day welcome over, and now the tag team of guilt and helplessness have moved in and will probably be tenants for awhile. Hopefully their lease will be up in a couple days and I can rent some more productive feelings.


Pederson, P. (1995). The five Stages of culture shock: critical incidents around the world. Westport, C.T: Greenwood Press.