Tag Archives: hostel

Experiencing Culture Shock in the Castle

By Kimberly Gregory (McGill)

A moment of reflection

A moment of reflection

I thought that I knew what to except when arriving in Malawi for my second year in a row, however I was wrong. I knew that I would experience culture shock despite having been here before but I thought that I would go through each stage as described by Pederson (1995) swiftly and with ease. As it turns out, I have completely skipped the honeymoon stage and have gone straight to the disintegration stage. Perhaps this was brought upon by my colleagues’ explicit euphoria from their new surroundings. On our drive to the hostel they were so amazed by everything, ironically they were even astonished by things like cows, chickens and goats which are not uncommon in Canada; a clear characteristic of the honeymoon stage. Another moment that drove me straight to the disintegration stage was when I saw the new location as it was even more prestigious than the last. It was a little mansion; the entrance had rounded stairs, the kind that is reminiscent of Mediterranean architecture. It had tall ceilings, and the rooms were enormous, much bigger than the rooms that you would find in most middle class Canadian homes. The beds had brand new mattresses with thick warm sheets for colder nights. Seeing this place invaded me with a sense of guilt because we had just driven from the airport where the majority of homes we saw were disheveled huts made of straw and mud. The only thing that brought me comfort was the fact that I knew this hostel would one day be used for students who want to study in the area. Thus, it was not a castle built exclusively for what was clearly the “white privileged people”.

I am concerned that living in this place creates barriers between us and the local community. Paulo Freire (1970) says “solidarity requires that one enter into a situation of those with whom one is solidary” (p.49). Living here prevents us from experiencing how most Malawians live and it reinforces the power inequities. In fact, I am living an even more privileged lifestyle than I would at home. There are people who cook for us and they have been cooking us the kind of meals that you would eat at a five star hotel. Meanwhile, many people here wonder if they will even be able to provide some sort of starch based meal for them and their family. Furthermore, there are even people who clean for us. I am aware that this is a way to provide direct economic relief, however there are certainly repercussions to this. Freire (1970) proposes that “the resolution for the oppressor –oppressed contradiction involves the disappearance of the oppressors as a dominant class” (p.56). There is already a clear dichotomy between the Malawian people and us Canadian students; did this have to be further reinforced by our living conditions? Do these power dynamics prevent us from building true reciprocity?

I fear that this upper class lifestyle will distract or even blind people from the entrenched poverty that surrounds us and in turn this lack of consciousness will contribute to less meaningful work in the field. It makes it too easy to return to the safe nest and forget the atrocities of the outside world and forgetting will not bring about the critical reflection that is needed when working on a project like this.


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

Freire, P. (1970). The pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury: New York.

But I Don’t Want To Leave My Room

By Farah-Roxanne Stonebanks

Learning to live in groups like hippos

Learning to live in groups like hippos

I’ve never liked camp. Or at least, I’ve never liked the idea of camp, since I’ve never been. The group activities, the organized sports, the silly little crafts and the whole “creating new friendships” always seemed ridiculous to me. At the beginning of every school year growing up, I always had friends who would have stories of the great time they had at summer camp. I would always stare at them, bewildered and unconvinced.

“You actually like going there?” I’d ask, after they had finished telling me about the fun they had experienced beading necklaces or playing touch football. (I’m guessing at this point. To be quite honest I usually zone out when people tell me about camp. But I feel like those are the types of activities one does at camp.) “You do that on your own free will?!”

I was always told that I just didn’t understand. The only reason I didn’t like camp was because I had never been. And you know what? That was just fine with me. Why spend your summer outside of your comfort zone with a bunch of people you didn’t even know, when you could just stay home and do whatever you please?

You understand now why whenever I would tell anyone that I knew about my plan to go to Africa that summer, I would get looks of confusion.

“You’re going to spend 5 weeks in one house with a bunch of different people? But Roxy, you hate people.”

I don’t hate people. That would be ridiculous. I am, however, a very introverted and solitary being by nature. You know that kid who, whenever the teacher would give the option to either work alone or in pairs, would choose to work alone? I was (am) that kid. So why was this girl, who was so against camp and who would choose to be alone instead of with a bunch of other people 95% of the time, joining a program that would force her to spend all her time with 10 other people?

To put it simply: because unless I decide to live the life of a hermit, I can’t avoid being around people forever. And considering I don’t really know how to hunt or grow crops or even construct a basic shelter, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the hermit-life is out of the question for me. Like I stated in one of my past blogs, I can’t stay in my comfort zone forever. If I want to continue with my education and to someday go out and get a job I need to be able to live and interact with a mix-match of different types of individuals.

Yes, living in one house with 10 other people can be challenging. You’re with the same people for five weeks; working with them, eating with them, relaxing with them, going on excursions on the weekends with them. You have to spend 7+ hours with them on untrustworthy buses, and 12+ hours with them on (thankfully) more trustworthy planes. And they’re there to witness your finest moments: when your hair is sticking up in ways that defy the laws of science, when you incoherently stumble to the table where you can sit face-down in a cup of coffee or tea and when you walk back into the hostel dusty, windswept and slightly sweaty after spending a few hours walking to various locations.

Even as I write this, my laundry hangs to dry behind me on jump ropes tied to the ceiling beams, my underwear on display for all to see. Boundaries have shrunk down to almost nothing and that’s a hard thing to get into. These are a group of people that, 9 times out of 10, you’ve never talked to before. And now you’re travelling with them to a completely different country to live and work with them for 4 to 6 weeks as you all deal with major culture shock. That’s a lot to deal with and, for people who’ve never lived with a group of people around their own age before, that’s a lot to get used to.

Was it difficult? At first, yes. I’m used to being able to come home from school and going to hide in my room for a while after spending a day socializing. I need time by myself, to have space to breath and just sit quietly with no one else around. While being here, having time by yourself is pretty much non-existent unless you want to sit in your room under a bug net (which I wouldn’t recommend). You’re forced to get used to being around a bunch of people all the time. And you do get used to it. Of course there are still little spats that occur here and there, as that would normally occur in any setting if a bunch of people were put together. But as time goes on you do feel more comfortable with all those other people around.

And now with the first two people leaving this Monday, I imagine that it’s going to feel strange with the lack of two members in our group. We get so used to seeing everyone all the time that with them gone, it’s going to be very obvious that something changed.

I think now that I’ve experienced what this is like, I’ll be more open to activities and educational trips that involve being with other people for extended periods of time.

I’m still never going to camp though.

They’re still super lame.

June 23 – Keep Good Company

By Naomi Crisp

Loving life

Loving life

Today was a strange day in the hostel. Linden and Jae were leaving the next day and it was obvious that it was on their mind. By 9 am Jae, Annabelle, Elise, Themba and Snowden were off to climb Mount Kasungu again. This made it even weirder as the hostel felt empty. People finally had a chance to sleep in, blog, journal and read. I took the opportunity to work by myself in typing up the advance work that we did as a sort of preface to the curriculum development process. This took me all morning and partly after lunch but I still didn’t complete it all. At that point my mind was mush and we were to leave within the hour to walk to Kay Jay Pee`s. It is funny how far that 5km walk felt the first time we did it and how easy it has become now. Our time spent at Kay Jay Pee`s was wonderful and relaxing. There were huge crowds in Kasungu as there was a political even going on but we had the whole restaurant to ourselves. The food was delicious! We had samosa, wing balls, burgers, kebab, chips, salad and a chocolate cake from Francis`s birthday. It got cold quickly when the sun went down and even though I was enjoying myself I was eager to wrap myself up in the sleeping bag. We were incredibly spoilt and I cannot wait to see Keith and Jenny again on Saturday.

We Have All Gone Shack Whacky or Maybe We Are Just Tired

By Amy Simpson



I spent about forty-five minutes staring at the blank page of my notebook not able to decide what to write about or what not to write about for my blog. So here are some tidbits of the conversation that followed as we sat around on the couches in the hostel.

– Whoever slit the sheets is a dirty sheet slitter. Repeat three times. Brenda’s saying from Newfoundland.

– I learned today that in the late 50’s there was a mine in Newfoundland where they would mine Fluorspar. Fluorspar is a mineral.

– There are two friends in this world, one is named Mr. Pickles and the other is named Mr. Green.

– I convinced myself this afternoon that the beef we were eating tasted like maple syrup. I say “convinced myself” because according to everyone else it didn’t, not even close.

– We have all gone shack whacky and the laughter is uncontrollable.

Whenever I can’t think of what to write or I am thinking with a pen and paper at hand I doodle. My rough drafts of my notebook are filled with doodles, so here is a collage of doodles that I have accumulated through many moments of blank page syndrome. Someone told me that if you don’t know what to write just start writing and the rest will come, so this is the final product.