by Jennifer Kumar, Cross-Cultural Coach
Everyone likes to be unique in some way. I’ve tried a lot of things in my life to stand out in the crowd, some intentionally, some out of awkwardness of learning about what is expected of me in various situations.
One example of this is when I moved from a small town to a small city in 2004. I had to adjust to a new lifestyle, which included a different dress code. In a small town, I went to work in a casual and laid back style. I wore long skirts, tops or pants and t-shirts. I never wore jeans, and continue to rarely wear jeans. In the small town, I also was ‘allowed’ to wear ethnic Indian clothes to work. I often wore salvaar kamiz and sari to work. However, in the city none of that was acceptable, including wearing saris to work. I thought cities were more open minded. Boy, was I wrong. Though I know now my office mates and I dress more casually than most in our field in this city, we still dress more fashionable and professional than in the small town. How I struggled with this. I always rebelled against fashion and going with the crowd, in this case wearing professional clothes. This was my way to be unique and stand out.
But this way of being unique and standing out wasn’t going to help me get ahead, or be respected. It got me plenty of calls to the boss’ office saying I am not representing my agency appropriately in the community by my dress. Also, being that I was so young, if I dressed more professionally, I’d be taken more seriously and people would think I was more educated, experienced and mature. I could buy into that. I had to literally buy into that, making many trips to the store to complete the wardrobe. My days of avoiding the mall to be different expired, as the mall became a favorite hangout. That took me more than a year as I struggled and also protested against so many ideas others gave me. I just couldn’t see myself being comfortable or feeling comfortable in those clothes. It was not only a mindset I needed to change, but I needed to find a new comfort in wearing styles and clothes I never wore or liked before, a new way of prioritizing my money to afford these clothes, and also a new way of showing my authority in new clothes as I was getting used to them.
For me, this experience demonstrated that change is:
1. Threatening when posed and monitored.
2. Not easy.
3. Easier to do if the person is asked to change buys into it.
4. A process.
5. A time to learn new skills. (i.e. I learned a new way to budget money.)
6. A time to explore new things and revisit things previously not appreciated. (i.e. Going to the mall.)
7. A way to learn new things about myself, create a new uniqueness, and evolve.
Though this change did, at rare moments, have me question values, it was more a change to make in my behavior and not values. However, what would I do, or how would I feel if the person did not accept my values and tried to talk me out of that? I will explore that in another article.
Thank you for reading, and don’t hesitate to share your comments below.
Is Culture Shock Real?
How to create a culture shock coping plan (worksheet and lesson included)
Is it culture shock or natural... life.... changes? (podcast and transcripts)
Author of this post, Jennifer Kumar, is a cross cultural coach. An American who has experienced culture shock and reverse culture shock having lived in ural and urban areas of U.S. and also recently moved back to India for a second time. I understand what it feels like to learn how to adapt to a new lifestyle, country and culture.
Feel free to follow her on Facebook by clicking here.
Contact her for more information on coaching by clicking here.
updated April 2011