Tag Archives: culture shock

On The Topic of Water

By Ryan Moyer (Bishop’s)

On the Topic of WaterThrough my visits to various villages surrounding the Transformational Praxis: Malawi campus, it has come to my attention that access to fresh water is a huge issue for the Kasungu population. The lack of safe drinking water is usually the first issue that comes to light through dialogue. The guilt hits as I sip fresh water from my Nalgene; the upper middle class version of a water bottle.

My water bottle is more outdoorsy than me; for shame. As I walk for hours a day through ferns and plants, and wildlife I’ve never encountered, I am beginning to feel a greater connect with the outside world, with mother earth. Okay hippy! But seriously, moments experienced walking through the Malawian countryside has really calmed me. The more I stay contained in the hostel, the more my thoughts do too, as they seem to flourish as much as the surrounding plants. But…streams are scarce. And in case you have forgotten, as some of my colleagues who wash their clothes every day have, water is important.

Conversing with local community has begun to elucidate the seemingly obvious, yet infrequently considered by some, intersections of the issue of water with other issues. How can one farm produce efficiently if their water is breaking their body down? These conclusions, some coming from visuals of ‘boreholes’, have begun to break me down as well; much faster than last year. I find myself choking back tears as I explain that I cannot provide immediate relief. But who wouldn’t? The Honeymooners![1] Need to work out, can’t start yelling already. I don’t know how Dr. Stonebanks is so relaxed when witnessing laughter instead of anger. I suppose both are powerful and motivating. Who am I to judge? I was emotionally schizophrenic last year.  I wish the first years luck.

This ‘emotional schizophrenia’ has lead me to understand rather than get angry with members of other Praxis Malawi teams who have looked the same villagers in the face after hearing their life threatening issues and promised them wells, boats and boat motors. It is the subsequent travelers that must begin, not with a fresh slate, but with deep trust issues to combat. Trust issues that are amplified due to our Western/European roots. I would be angry too. Seeing anger amongst villagers is refreshing. The local community knows they have been screwed; on both a macro and a micro level; over and over again. How many times can a man be lied to before projecting complete apathy and indifference?

I believe it was the monarch and eloquent philosopher George Bush who publicly proclaimed that “You can fool me once, you can fool me….you can fool me….but I’m…I’m not going to be fooled again!”

References

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

Culture Shock Update

By Amber Fortin (Mount Allison)

Culture Shock UpdateI think culture shock has begun hitting me. I catch myself in Penderson’s (1995) Honeymoon stage in culture shock, often because I am constantly in awe at the beauty of Malawi. I am so grateful to be here and I do not want to take any moment of this experience for granted. I have dreamed of travelling across Africa my whole life; watching discovery channel in amazement at the diversity and foreign animals, so I wanted to witness it with my own eyes.  Yet the beauty cannot hide the poverty here in the villages. The poverty is difficult to swallow and adjust to, especially seeing it every day. Despite all the reasons to be sad here I am witnessing happiness in the smallest things which Westerners take for granted; Whether this is because Malawians regard the ‘azungu’, white presence, as saviors or just the beauties in life. I find myself frustrated by the kids’ excitement due to my skin color and their awe in just merely watching me like I am an extinct animal and it’s a miracle that I am in front of them. Many of the kids are so young that they have never seen someone of another skin tone.

I am also becoming increasingly frustrated at Western culture and our society. The priorities I had and that others have are not truly important. Feelings of selfishness and shame are embedded in me looking back at my own life and what I have taken for granted for so long, such as clean water or even running water. I knew before but until you witness it and live with it, you cannot understand. Here some women and children must walk 1 km with a large pail of water on their heads and a baby on their backs to get back home. I am constantly astounded at the strength of the people here. I just wish I could do more, that I could actually help but money is not necessarily what is needed here. Creative problem solving, entrepreneurship, understanding and empowerment are what I hope to leave here.

References

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

Stuck in the Honeymoon Stage of Culture Shock

By Alex Bernier (Bishop’s)

Our home

Our home

The Transformative Praxis: Malawi Campus is big, cleaned daily, and secluded from the community members and their impoverished way of life. Exposure to a struggling life is not what I’m experiencing besides being with the children on our Campus. My focus here is to build curriculum with the other education students and to work on lesson plans for the after school program. There is little chance to be working with the community members like the other projects going on, such as the compost pit or chicken co-op projects. As a result, I believe I am stuck in the first stage of culture shock as stated by Pederson (1995): the honeymoon stage. This stage is known as having a sense of intrigue, excitement and overall euphoria. As much as I may be comfortable in this stage, this experience and opportunity to be in Malawi and working with these people is pointless for the community and myself if I don’t proceed to the next stage: the disintegration stage. It might not be a bad thing that I am going through culture shock slowly, but I do find that I am second guessing myself and sad about not feeling bad for the Malawians as much as I know I would be if I was exposed more to their living situations. Another concern I have is going through reverse culture shock when I return home and go back to Bishop’s University in the fall.

However, I am learning cultural difference as some interactions are made on campus, like language, behavioral, food, and Malawian ways of cleaning. Tomorrow, the Education students and I are going to the Chilanga School for the Blind and the Chilanga Sighted School. I imagine these will be big class sizes and strict teachers but I am unsure what else to expect. I just hope for a meaningful experience. I have to push myself out of my comfort zone in general and communicate with the community to get the reality check that I need.

References

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

Bliss?

By Karen Jeffery (Trinity)

Our hostel

Our hostel

Accompanied by plenty of stares we departed the airport at Lilongwe. After our journey was much longer than we expected we were relieved to be on the final stretch of our journey, a 90-minute car journey to our home for the next five weeks. I couldn’t hide my fascination as I observed everything along the roadside. Everything was unfamiliar, but exciting and full of character. I smiled at the goats and the pigs roaming freely, the children helping their parents sell fruit at the side of the road, the people saluting our car full of white people and the bikes traveling from one village to the next – most loaded with two passengers. The names of the shops amused me most and almost all were in English; “Up Up Jesus” was a personal favourite.

Since arrival I have congratulated the contractor numerous times for our impressive hostel. It is far more than I expected, almost reminding me of a Mediterranean villa. At the same time, I’m acutely aware that this is far from the living conditions that our co-learners and workers return home to.

In the same way that there are five stages of grief, there are five stages of culture shock. The outlined phases are the honeymoon stage, the disintegration stage, the reintegration stage, the autonomy stage, and the interdependence stage (Stonebanks, 2013). Culture shock is something we’ve all been reading about and preparing ourselves for. I think experiencing culture shock is a crucial part of this project, a part that will allow me to become more realistic about health actions that can be taken by the locals, whom I have already become fond of.

Even after one day here I am questioning how I can experience the full depth of this culture shock when I am sleeping in a bed more comfortable than what I have at home. I’ve already been served three meals with chips amongst other western foods, we have electricity when we need it and the toilets and showers are much more glamorous than what I had been trying to prepare myself for. This state of bliss is not how Malawian people live. Honeymoon bliss this may be, but with such feelings of confusion, guilt and frustration with the unfairness of it all, could I be experiencing parts of the disintegration stage even after one day of being here?

This project aims to be a collaboration of people. A collaboration of different cultures, different skin colours, but all equal and all people. I can’t help but question how we can achieve this when so far all we’ve been provided with is stereotypical to the image of the superior western white person which is an idea we’ve come to try and break down.

Chipper Impressions

By Marten Sealy (Bishop’s)

Working through culture shock

Working through culture shock

Day three in Malawi, and I am full to the brim with positive emotions; satisfaction and optimism. My fellow Canadian students, all twelve of us, appear to share a sense of fascination in our everyday encounters among the people and places that we will be spending the next five weeks. The children are wildly enthusiastic, our local colleagues are hospitable to say the least, and the panoramic sub-Saharan landscape is serene. I advise anyone who enjoys gazing at the sky to treat themselves and visit this land. The sun sets between 5-6pm, followed by an impressive display of southern hemisphere constellations (the big dipper is upside down). I suppose this is what Pederson (1995) calls the honeymoon phase.

I spent the month of May in the university town of Lennoxville, QC. Lennox was peaceful, as much of the loud Bishop’s crowds had retreated home for the summer. This environment allowed for long days of reflection on the life that I’ve led so far, and contemplation on my future endeavors. Better yet, my stream of thought during this time was guided by weekly conference calls with the professors and future participants of this year’s effort with Transformative Praxis: Malawi. These virtual meetings, despite technical hiccups, were informative and contributed greatly to my mental preparation. I’ve put a lot of thought into some of the themes introduced in these meetings… particularly in the final session where we discussed the 5 Stages of Culture Shock (Pederson, 1995): Honeymoon, Disintegration (anger at self), Re-integration (anger at others), Autonomy (overcoming negative feelings), and Interdependence (truly integrating oneself into the host country’s).

If we assume a linear progression from 1-5, then the typical gung-ho western humanitarian aid worker is infatuated at first sight. They are destined to go through a period of great stress, self-doubt, and anger as they become accustomed to the cultural differences and harsh underlying realities, but with persistence they have the potential to emerge as an increasingly competent member of the host society. This forms a sort of bell curve, with a treacherous peak splitting the comfort of one valley, with the accomplishment of the other. It’s a useful model, and one that has helped me make sense of my experience so far.

It seems to me like a case study of others’ past experiences though, and not necessarily a predictor of what lies in my path. I don’t believe in accepting a fate that doesn’t satisfy one’s own ambitions. I could accept the profoundly character building experience of labouring that sharp mountain if I had been plucked off my couch in Canada, Play Station™ controller still in hand, and air dropped into rural Malawi… but that is simply not the case. I began preparing for this project in January (five months prior to departure), and with a final month dedicated towards calm meditation, I really believe that I am arriving with an arsenal of wisdom from stories shared with me, and an open mind capable of fully absorbing new experiences without retreating into a shell of doubt. I want to believe that my preparation will allow me to hike up and down, continuing in the direction of autonomy with relative composure.

Only time will tell though. I have no crystal ball; just blind presumption. It may be with great humility that I have to make my next update. Only time will tell.

References

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