Is Mine a Case of Reverse Culture Shock?
[Part 1 of 3 Parts - Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]
Many people have written to me in the past few years inquiring how has my life in India influenced my life now that I am living back in the US. Well, I have been thinking about this also- daily, in fact!
For those unaware of what culture shock is, I will give a brief. Culture shock happens when one goes to live in another place with a different way of life and can't cope with this. There is a 'culture shock curve' which starts out high- this means the person is new there and is so excited about it that they can't notice the differences. Then, the curve will go down, which means that they have noticed the differences and may have a difficult time coping. Then, lastly, the curve goes back up if the person copes, stays and adjusts their life to the culture in the new place.
Well, reverse culture shock is somewhat similar but it refers to when a person who has been away from their native culture goes back to live there and how they adjust and what they can and can't cope with back in their native environment. And, yes, there are many a time when people have a very difficult time adjusting back to their native environment, especially when (in my opinion) they have lived an extended period of time in another culture, and not only another culture, but another drastically different culture. I would give myself and this following narrative as an example of this.
How does culture and lifestyle differ in India and in America?
Briefly, India is a very vast country consisting of 26 states, each of which has a slightly different or very different language which can consist of a drastically different script. There are 15 national languages officially recognized in the Indian constitution (none of which is called 'Indian'), all of Indian origin minus English. This is one major part to understanding life in India. Traveling in India is not only difficult linguistically (each state has a different language, with different scripts), culture, food habit, clothing habit (sometimes), among other subtle culture differences. I can say with certainty this does not happen in the USA. It is so drastically different. For instance, one who travels from Tamil Nadu to Delhi has an obvious language problem (if they don't know English). Tamil Nadu's language is Tamil, and Delhi is Hindi- and these two languages are entirely different. This is one problem, the second would be food- rice based dishes are more common in south, while bread based (chappati and rotis) are common in north. Many Northern women also wear their sari in a different style. Also the wrap men wear are called different names in North and South. In north, all men's waist wraps are called dhotis, but in the south, dhotis are only the white fabric waist wrap and the colored ones are called lungis. As for culture - well the classical dances of North India are somewhat different from South India in name and in movements. As for Hindu culture- North Indians may celebrate different holidays than South Indians, or call them by different names. North Indians have different names and naming systems than South Indians. The religious make up of North India is first Hindus, then Muslims, then Sikhs, then Christians, Jains, Buddhists and others, whereas in South India it is Hindus, then Christians, then Muslims, then Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and others.
For more information on brief history and cultural issues, peruse a presentation I created on this topic. This is a PDF file.
This gives a small idea as to how life is different. But how would daily life different for a 25 year old single woman? Yes, I have to specify woman since it is India. To be a woman in India and live as an Indian woman being from a foreign (western) country in India is a bit suffocating to those not knowing what it entails. I am in no way saying India is bad for this, it is the culture and in some ways it is good and it is bad.
I can not tell here what all it entails to grow up as a girl in India. Let's leave it at it seems suffocating to a western girl that came to my college in India to know that I lived in a hostel (dorm) that had a rule that all girls must be in by 6:30pm (dark) and can't leave before 6am without previous written permission. There is more to these rules, like the roll call, and not being able to go out on weekend nights without permission given on the previous Thursday, and permission only to go to a 'local guardian's' house at that. India is very different, and in some ways I agree with the rules. I mean I agree with the rule on the outside and inside, but don't agree to how these rules translate into a situation where lone girls are eve teased on busses and lone females are not treated properly or even at times listened to in government or police offices. In India a woman is not taken seriously in such situations unless she is with a man- even if the person whom she seeks the help from is a woman! I know this from personal experience. However, in general women in India are not treated with disrespect; many women have much more freedoms in their own households than women in other parts of the world.
I adjusted to all these rules, not only because I was 'forced to' or I couldn't live in the hostel- but I wanted to. This is a big difference between other foreigners and me. I conformed not only to these rules, but I dressed very appropriately (I can count on one hand the number of times I wore my western baggy jeans throughout my two year stay in India.), did not go around with boys, did not roam around at night time, tried always to go somewhere with girlfriends so I was not a lone girl, among other things.
Read more on this topic, Exploring Female Stereotypes on my alaivani.com blog.
Since I lived as the only American in the college hostel (dorm), I not only followed those rules, but ate in the 'hostel mess', which meant I ate Indian food every day. I can count on one hand the number of times I had 'western' food while I was in India, and one of those times was when I was not well. Many locals would approach me and to create conversation, ask me what I ate on a regular basis. When I mentioned I ate in the mess and when I did go out of the hostel, ate the local food either in hotels (restraints) or friend's homes, they were surprised that a 'foreigner' would eat their food daily, and even enjoy it. Well, I have to say, even if I had the choice or opportunity to make 'American' food, I would have skipped doing that because the local food was so much more tastier!
Reading this long- winded introduction, you can realize that I truly immersed myself into the local culture of Chennai, India. Because of this, I was affected all the more by reverse culture shock.
Am I Videsi, Pardesi or Desi??
Videsi, Pardesi and Desi are Hindi words. Videsi means foreigner not from India. Pardesi is a word an Indian used to describe another Indian from another state (i.e. a Tamilian is a Pardesi in Delhi). Though the technical translation of desi is 'from the land,' in colloquial terms, I understand desi to mean Indian from India.
After reading how I incorporate Indian daily life into my American daily life, you can decide!
[Part 2 of 3 Parts - Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]
Part 1 of this article is reprinted with my permission on Third Culture Kids Website Forum.
Author Jennifer Kumar is a cross-cultural trainer, relationship coach and American English tutor. Looking for some help in exploring how to enhance or better your cross-cultural or interfaith relationships or deal with your culture shock as you experience cross-cultural and global lifestyles? I am happy and look forward to meeting you in person, over the phone or via Skype. More about enhancing your Authentic Journey- http://journeys.alaivani.com.
tags: "reverse culture shock" "culture shock" "cross culture" "third culture kids" expats "American expats" "expats in India" "study in India" "American in India" "ABCD"
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