A Student Development Experience in a Development Context

“Culture Shock”

Leading up to our Tanzanian sojourn I was always puzzled by the term “culture shock.”  What the heck is that supposed to mean?  Being that my trip to Tanzania was my first in-depth cross-cultural experience, I was almost worried that I’d be somehow “shocked” by the new culture I’d be immersed in.  Delightfully, adjusting to life in Tanzania was a breeze.  I wouldn’t even use the word “adjustment,” it was easy; it just was.

Coming home however, was a different story.  For the first few days it just felt like business as usual (although I always had an eye over my shoulder waiting for the “shock” to come).  It was nice to see my friends and family.  The street festival on Canada Day was a blast.  I guess my mom moved the Tupperware to a new cupboard but that wasn’t too hard to get used to.  Then one Wednesday evening I finally came to understand what culture shock is all about.

I was in behind St. Vital Mall chatting with a friend before his movie was about to start.  When he took off I thought that I was pretty parched and figured I’d walk into Wal-Mart to grab a small water (maji ndogo as I was used to calling it in Tanzania).  It turned out that walking around St. Vital Mall takes about 10 or 15 minutes.  A guy could walk halfway across Karatu town in 15 minutes and come across 25 different places that sold maji ndogo – groceries, pharmacies, restaurants, pubs, push carts on the street.  Nothing but a concrete jungle at St. Vital Mall.  When I finally got inside Wal-Mart it took me another 10 minutes to find some water!  First of all the place is grocery now so I had no idea where anything was anymore.  I found the drinks aisle and there were only 12-packs for sale.  So I hit the front check-outs.  The fridge in the express lane had only fruity carbonated drinks or energy drinks.  The fridge at check-out 8 had about 10 different energy drinks.  Check-out 10:  Sodas.  Check-out 12:  Fruit-flavoured sodas.  Check-out 14:  Energy drinks.  Check-out 16:  Sodas.  At check-out 18 I finally hit the Vitamin Water and “normal” water fridge.  Geeez.  Am I too picky?  Should I have just gotten an energy drink?  Well all I wanted was water, the best thirst quencher.  I missed how easy it was to come across in Karatu.

The first sip cooled my frustrations.  I hopped on a bus and threw on some Motown.  Boy was I groovin’ again!  When I hit my stop I got off the bus and strolled across the street.  There wasn’t much traffic and I was in no rush.  I walked nonchalantly in the middle of a residential street and I whipped my backpack around so that I could put my iPod away.  I heard a car come up behind me so I turned to see where exactly it was.  The woman in the car sped up as if to threaten me with the powerful machine she had control of.  I wrinkled my forehead and said, “really?”  I stepped to the side and she sped off, the fumes coming out of her ears almost fogged her windows!  Were those seven seconds really that valuable to this woman?  If she had some good music playing those seven seconds would mean more groovin’ time!  In rural Tanzania the roads were quite bumpy and uneven, so I’d be walking all over the road, wherever the best terrain was.  The cars drove slowly, and if they came up to a person (or a cow) blocking the road, the driver would lightly tap the horn twice to let the walker know that he/she was behind and needed to “borrow” the nice terrain to get through.  Roads are public spaces.  Where has the human decency gone?

So that’s culture shock.  Be aware of it next time to come back to North America after a long stay abroad.

Scott

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