Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sliding up the U-Curve of Cultural Adaptation

They say whenever one spends any significant length of time in a another culture, one goes through various stages of adjustment: Honeymoon, Hostility, Humor, At Home (fn. 1). The phases' titles signify what they entail: Fascination, anger, etc.

Since I've been here, I've been conscious of my mindset as I didn't want to waste any significant length of time in the "hostility" phase. This blog was partially a structure for that. I knew that if I could keep myself "fascinated" by the differences instead of making them wrong, I could use my time here valuably.

Last week, I went to dinner with Frank on Wednesday night. By the time I got home, I felt tired, frustrated and misunderstood. Important note here: This had nothing to do with Frank. I could have been talking to any non-American, non-liberal, capitalist and have been plunged into the same amount of despair.

The material I have been studying (terrorism, international human rights, the death penalty and women's rights) are difficult subjects to handle. Some of it entails graphic descriptions of government's cruelty to their citizens, to other country's citizens and man's individual cruelty to fellow men (and women). Honestly, horrific is too mild a word to describe it. Some of the material is downright gut-wrenching.

I think that what has enabled me to study these things in the past without any significant melt-down is that I have been able to talk to my friends about it, discuss it, discuss how I feel about it, and also have had the things around me that stabilize me - whether it is my own bed, Marlo, or simply existing in a world that I know and understand. I have been here, studying material that is unsettling, without an environment that settles me. Does that make any sense?

Then, I went to school on Thursday and had a frustrating interaction with a younger classmate (blond, and talks like a valley-girl in a high-pitched voice) who insists that, despite what studies report, teenage girls don't dumb themselves down when studying with boys. However, the only thing she used to support her argument was her own "feelings." I'm sitting there thinking, but not expressing, "How do you think you ended up talking like that!?!?!" Pretty much, I was just being a righteous bitch, which carried on throughout the afternoon and evening.

On my way home from school, I waited at a street corner for the walk light to turn green. I started crossing the cross-walk when a car, without waiting for me to cross, began to turn right into the cross-walk. That really pissed me off. While this place is very pedestrian friendly in terms of layout, walks seem like just one big game of "chicken" between bicyclist-bicyclist, bicyclist-pedestrian, bike-car, and car-pedestrian. If you hesitate at all because you want to make sure they see you and are going to stop, they take it as a sign that they can "take" the right of way, even though it is not theirs to take. I doubt that there is a word in Dutch for "yield."

So, I spent Thursday evening in my apartment feeling miserable and sorry for myself. I did set a deadline, however, that by the time I woke up on Friday, I was going to get back on top of things. Unfortunately, I woke up on Friday morning with a headache so it took me until about 2:00 to really feel myself again. Once I did, I buckled down and read a lot of the material to get ahead, etc.

Then, yesterday, Frank came and took me driving around from village to village in the countryside to see what it is like outside the city. I'm very happy he did because it enabled me to become interested again in a postive way of how things are different here. I snapped photo after photo of one picturesque scene after another. I'll be doing some more posts about that in the next couple of days. It was a very relaxing and restorative day. He took good care of me.

If you are ever going to spend a signficant length of time in another place, it is valuable to be aware of the stages of cultural adaptation so that you can make the most of your time abroad. When you consider what a great opportunity it is - and how rare - it is important to seize every moment of it.

Fn. 1:

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