Merriam-Webster defines cultural shock as: “a feeling of confusion, doubt, or nervousness caused by being in a place (such as a foreign country) that is very different from what you are used to.”
Before leaving Brazil to move to Canada I read a lot about cultural shock, and the more I read, the more I was certain that I was not going to go through a cultural shock myself.
I had several reasons in my mind to believe that I would not have to fear that obstacle.
· Canada and Brazil are located in the same continent! I know…they are far apart from each other, like north and south? But still, they are located in the same continent, so I don’t have to fear!
· We have similar types of food… and clothing. (So, I thought).
· I knew a little bit of English…
· The lexical roots of Portuguese and English are from Latin…I know English has a great influence from the German language, but because the alphabet is pretty much the same I thought that learning English would be an easy task.
· I was a teacher in Brazil, I knew how to speak Portuguese and l learned Spanish as my second language. How can learning another language be difficult for me?
· I come from a state located in the deep South of Brazil, where it is cold and it snows in the mountains during the winter! (Believe me it does!!!)
So what can go wrong?
Part 1 - Everything!
When I first moved from Brazil to Canada, I moved to London, Ontario, which was not my first choice, but due to my husband’s job, that was our assigned place to go.
As soon as we arrived I already noticed the difference in climate, it was October, and it was only +10C!!! I had just left a warm whether with temperatures ranging from 20C to 25C plus.
After landing, a group of friends picked us up from Pearson’s Airport. We stopped at a restaurant, and my second shock occurred… What do I order? What type of food is that? The waitress tried to explain to me, but I could not understand what she was saying. My English was not good enough for so many details about food. So, I guess that the similarities between Portuguese and English lexical roots did not help me that much after all.
That was just the beginning of my cultural shock; little did I know how much more I was going to go through with clothes, school, grocery stores, doctor’s office and with my first home…that was a shocking experience itself.
Part 2 - The First House
Before moving to Canada, I had seen pictures of a few places in different Canadian provinces. I saw quite a few parks, schools and houses online. I used to imagine myself living and working in those places. I created an image in my mind of what my home in Canada would look like. When we finally moved to Canada, the place where we moved to, a small ugly townhouse in London, Ontario, did not match the image I had in my head. The ‘funny’ thing is that I started to develop great feelings for that small townhouse; it was my first place in Canada. I learned how to love the little house and it did not look that small or ugly anymore. I started to make connections with that place; I started to get to know my neighbors and the community; that connection brought a new meaning to my place. In my mind that was the place I should be in. (At least at that time!)
That was just a few of my anxious moments in Canada… there were quite a few more after that…
I can completely relate with the ideas shared by Juffer (1985) on her article called: “RESEARCHING CULTURE SHOCK: THE CULTURE SHOCK ADAPTATION INVENTORY”
I love the beginning of Juffer (1985)’s article, which describes really well what I went through during my first months (years) in Canada…
“When a person goes abroad and enters a new environment, cultural cues that have been taken for granted as simply part of the "fabric of life" no longer are assessed accurately. Life becomes unpredictable and people have problems coping with even routine aspects of living. The simplest, semi-automatic tasks such as listening to the radio, getting a drink of water, going to the grocery store, driving a car, or chatting with neighbors require full concentration and attention to complete successfully. Since every detail, large and small, in the new environment demands the full attention of the expatriate, mental fatigue soon occurs which further frustrates the coping mechanisms.” (Juffer, 1985, p.2)
Cultural Shock - definition (n.d.). In Merriam Webster. Retrieved August 7, 2016 from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/culture%20shock
Juffer, K. (1985). Researching Culture Shock: The Culture Shock Adaptation Inventory. In Action Research & Associates, Inc. Washington: DC. Retrieved from http://actionresearchinc.com/docs/researching-culture-shock.pdf