I’m used to things never going my way or people constantly never understanding me. Before, I used to think of it as a short-term adjustment phase that I’d eventually grow out of once I got used to a new environment and community, in addition to my own lack of maturity. As experience has shown, however, I haven’t really grown out of being a kid– actually, I haven’t met anyone who has “grown out of” being a Third Culture Kid.
So let’s put things into perspective: if culture shock can be simplified to mean what happens when you are in a new environment and the way you do things, think, or act are all completely different from this strange new land, and thus difficult to reconcile. Eventually, either you cling to your ways stubbornly, or you resign to saying “This isn’t Kansas anymore…” and do what you have to do in order to adapt and cope with the alien world you are in–before you realize that now you are an alien. That is one way I would describe culture shock.
So while I sit here in my new apartment I’ve just moved into a couple months ago, that for all intents and purposes is “home” for the next two years while I am in school, I ask myself “What is culture shock now?”
Through the Third Culture Kid experience of moving between cultures, I’ve found myself generally going into new territory with the mindset that someone could have a concealed knife, could be the king’s daughter, or could actually be a stranger there too. I err on the cautious side, being polite and kind to everyone, and constantly asking for clarification, whether it is okay to shake hands or wai someone, if eye contact is expected or rude, or what colloquialisms they use in their English that I should adjust to and what different idioms in my own I adopted from other places that they may not understand.
This cautious nature has become so ingrained into me that I’m not sure if I’m constantly adjusting or if I’m never going to adjust since I don’t have any one cultural standard to default to. Where does the California end and the Filipino begin? Where does the Chinese fit into all of it?
Maybe this is my natural self, constantly moving between cultures like a chameleon. Or maybe I just forgot how to stop being a chameleon because I have never settled into one culture or accepted one as my default standard.
Whatever it is, culture shock is either a constant in my life, or something that has lost meaning to me–or at least no longer shocks me.