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Sep 19

Written by: Jennifer Kumar, Cultural Adjustment Coach
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

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"



Thank you for reading and visiting Alaivani.com.


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Copyright ©2007 Jennifer Jayanthi Kumar


3 comments so far...

Re: Is Mine a Case of Reverse Culture Shock?

Hari Om, Vanakkam,

I could not resist sharing my experience though it may be insignificant.
May be that "That happens to me also" or an interesting narration which I am not good at make me to share.

In Andhra pradesh where we live now, some of the food items like pickcle, pappu podi (dal powder) are regular items. Such item& the cinema have become favorites of my wife.

She once got made pickle with the tenor and carried to home town during vaction to serve her father. She had to regret as he tasted, he did not like the spicy one instead preferred the Tamilnadu (southern)mango pickle. (which is less spicy w/o mustard powder).

She got a rude shock. Also for movies where the Andhra films are in general more dramatic & more glamourous which is not the case in TN.

But one thing is that when one continue to do certain thing wantedly or forcibly, the time makes the magic to make a liking for it.

But in your case, when the stay in Chennai is not a too long period to accustom with, your liking for it makes you above the crowd.

While on the subject, I did not come across the fascination for movies by tamilians in your articles or your view on it. Why I enquired because that caused history in Tamilnadu and continued to do so even now.

Thanks for reading,
Hari Om

By a.nagarajan68 on   Thursday, September 20, 2007

Re: Is Mine a Case of Reverse Culture Shock?

These are good insights, Nagarajan. In fact, you're absolutely right, many not familiar with India do not know travelling between states is like travelling to different countries! Things are so different, culture shock can happen even within India! I think it's great, though that you and your wife take up so much of the local culture and have made it part of your new lives away from home. But, in doing that, a little divide or misunderstanding will be there with your family in TN, like the pickle incident. And, ironically, there is a phrase in US, "I'm in a pickle." This case pickle means trouble or quandry. So, for your wife, taking a new pickle to her dad also created 'a pickle!'

By Jayanthi on   Thursday, September 20, 2007

Re: Is Mine a Case of Reverse Culture Shock?

I came back 6 days ago from a 12 days trip to Israel it has been my first time ever of a trans continental travel . It was a very intense experience in the Spiritual sense which was the purpose if my travel. I enjoyed every day and every minute had th ed experience of driving myself in the Israel messy traffic everywhere and spending have of my time in hotels and hostels and the other half in the back of the SuV I rented to save money to buy little presents for my family. I live in the US which is not my native country and I am a nurse here. Since I came to live in the US I had great difficulty keeping a job for more than 6 months or a year. I couldn't stand the politics that native co-workers make at the workplaces and kept either quitting or being fired. The mist difficult is that if being always on time , I just couldn't do it. Worked better last time when I was fired because I was one more time Kate one whole minute. I hate it. Before my travel I already had been looking for work and interviewing because this last boss was totally narcissistic and couldn't tolerate her ways anymore after only 5 months there. So I got hired and a few days later left for my trip. I also enrolled in college for a counselling degree in drugs and alcohol program . The weird thing is that after only 12 days I came back to the US happy to be back home and see my daughter that recently moved out with her boyfriend, and my family here in the US. The first 2 days I slept all day in guess tthe opposite 24 hours between middle east and west. While here is night over there is noon with a bright Sun . I always wanted to go to Israel and the dream came true so happy, yet the last days over there felt tired and a little lonely and was ready to come back home. I totally hated theocratic and horn sounds in Israel and the night I drove from LA to San Diego felt so happy that the roads were empty and silent in the way to San Diego. So I slept . But then I started to think and feel that this life was so meaningless and when my daughter refused to come visit after my trip I totally started crying hating myself and considering if dying excavations option! Wow ! I got scared of those thoughts and just felt like doing nothing. I then received an email from a teacher that had dropped me from her class even though I had spoke with her about my travel plans. I thought you know what ? Good for you because I want to drop all the classes anyway. I had questioned my enrolment in the counselling program I attended one mire class and decided that I didn't want to do it. I wanted focusing in a new life. I felt depressed and not wanting to do absolutely anything . I was full of energy y in my trip and back home just thinking in washing the dishes made me tired just wanted to be asleep and while sleeping I had this dreams if exoliringvnew places tunnels and cities back in Israel. The reality is that I have no money left , must start working immediately good thing I was hired before I left but for heaven's sake I am totally and completely out of place I feel that I don't fit here anyway , I'm happy that I saw my daughter and know that she US happy full of life and plans . But I just turned 50 yeArs old my trip to Israel was my birthday celebration . And I feel that I don't know what to do or what meaning thus life has. I have no retirement because I never saved any money always living month by month with the limited earnings I had in my shaky career here. In my country I have a small retirement account that I left because I wanted to try my luck in the US that was 15 years ago. I feel that I have assisted the mist productive years of my life trying to build a life in a foreign country that doesn't care for the individual but for the money you can help the owner make. Uhh also considering starting my own business out of nothing but have no idea how to do it. Because I'm tired of being fired and belittled whenever overwork for someone else. So coming back home from my trip really peeled raw all these feelings and deeply seated discomfort and at the sane time I ask my self fir those 15 years should I go back to my real home in Mexico before is too late? However my daughter lives here has made her life here and she has said she is not going back with me. She is 22 now we came Goethe US when she was7. So yeah either reversal culture shock or the reality of mg life hit me hard on the face after coming back. I can't wait to be 7 am since 2 am because I can't sleep at night in the US still in Israel time I guess. And at 7 am I'm droppings those classes because I already have many certificates and degrees that I am not using for anything just like a camaleon I keep changing careers in order to survive and I just had it! J feel that is a waste of time trying to adapt to everything here and just nit able to fully do it successfully. It may be the coming back from Israel that totally opened my eyes or is it that I'm just a failure in life . But on the other hand I have a degree in Medicine in my country , I am a registered nurse in the US , have accomplished things before but I feel that I just list my compass plus getting older but looking young and pretty is just not cutting it for me anymore . I'm feeling a little Vetter after almost a week but the first days were horrible emotionally. I see things different but I just feel out of place. Hope you understand and if going through similar feelings I can only encourage you to pray to have peace and clarity of mind .

By ruby on   Saturday, June 11, 2016

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