Culture Shock

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As of Wednesday, this blog is now part of my Intercultural Development class. Which, admittedly, I was a little hesitant about because it sounds cheesy and overly emotional. I think the words “self discovery” were used. I’ve already warned people in my class that if they cry, I’m going to create distance. I can’t handle people who cry.

BUT as it turns out, this class is going to be pretty cool. First, it’s about helping us transition into a culture that is vastly different from our own and learning how to embrace the differences. Second, it’s a place where we can vent our frustrations that pertain to the culture or our own experiences with our family histories and ethnicity.

Does that make sense? It was a pretty intense 2 hour class. We all walked out feeling exhausted and exhilarated and a little flummoxed about what had occurred.

Anyway, our first assignment is to write about an experience we’ve had with culture shock. The biggest thing for me is the concept of time. In Jordan, and throughout the Middle East, people make time to fit their schedules. In the United States, we are slaves to time. We’re precise and being late or staying past your welcome is considered rude. Here, you’re expected to stay at a friend’s for hours. You’re expected to slowly build relationships with your colleagues and getting something done, like getting a form signed, can take days. And it’ll only happen after you’ve asked your colleague how his family is, what does he think of the weather? and have had a quick exchange about politics. Meeting at 3:00? More like 4:15.

If you know anything about me, you’ll know that I am absolutely a slave to time. I love schedules and color-coding and precise plans and to-do lists. So the lack of a sense of urgency has me in a constant state of annoyance. Sometimes I have to stop myself from snapping at someone or rolling my eyes. The biggest problem came on Thursday. I was sick, traveler’s flu or something similar. And all I wanted to do was get home, Skype my mom, and take a nap. I got out of class at 12:30 and if I took the public transportation I could get back to the apartment by 1:00 or 1:15 in time to talk to my mom. Unfortunately, that is not what happened. With me were my friends Emma and Ronald, and the Arabic TA Ahmed. The four of us were dropped off at a familiar point and the group proceeded to follow Ronald, who thought he knew where the apartments were, but accidentally missed a turn. I was under the impression that Ahmed knew where we were despite Ronald’s mistake, but he didn’t. What should have been a 10 minute walk, turned into 30 minutes. Maybe any other day I would have been fine, but I was feeling really sick, it was hot, and I was late to talk to my mom.

We meandered (or what felt like meandering) through neighborhood after neighborhood and all the buildings looked the same. When we passed a small grocery store and Ahmed stopped and bought himself a pop and the three of us ice cream cones. A kind gesture, but I had had it. When he pressed me to eat it, I snapped.
“I can’t eat it,” I replied sharply, “I’m sick. I don’t feel good.” He continued to push me to eat it, insisting it was organic and I’d be fine. But that wasn’t the point. It was the culmination of things. I wanted nothing more than for the entire event to end, and so I took on a sharp and frustrated tone, hoping to end the interaction as soon as possible.

In retrospect, I felt guilty for coming off as rude and expecting people to know to leave me alone when I said I wasn’t feeling well. I think that this trip will be a huge test of my self-control, tolerance, and understanding. I wouldn’t ever use the word “patient” to describe myself back home, but perhaps I need to start becoming familiar with the concept. If I don’t, it’s going to be a very long 4 months.

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