Culture Shock

Allison Douma


February 9, 2016

Throughout my time here in Senegal I have had a lot of time to think. Think about everything, from my perception of god to why I use so much water when I am taking a shower when here I use only a single bucket and I have even been thinking of my opinions of culture shock. 

At PDT we had a session on culture shock, talking about how hard it was and coming up with strategies to combat those feelings. We also touched on how one of the goals of the program is to expand our stretch zone to turn it into our comfort zone. Another goal is to be able to come into a new culture without being phased by culture shock. As I was thinking about this an article I read in my english class called “Nowhere Man”. The author, Pico Iyer, claims that he is a part of a new “breed” of people called “perpetual foreigner[s]”. This new breed he claims “pass through countries as though revolving doors, resident aliens of the world, impermanent residents of nowhere. Nothing is strange to us, and nowhere is foreign.”. He later claims that this type of person  “become… strangers to belief itself” and later asks himself “what are the issues that we die for? what are the passions we live for?”. To me is claiming that he is able to move in and out of countries with ease. His stretch zone has stretched far, turned into an even bigger comfort zone. He could come to Senegal and not be shocked by polygamy, arranged marriage, or corporal punishment, but is that okay? 

I have found myself this year becoming okay with things that originally shocked me when I first got here. For instance the hitting of children. At first I was so overwhelmed when everyone in my family was hitting the kids when they did something bad rather than being yelling at them. I was angry. Recently though I have noticed that not only have I become immune to seeing them hit the kids, but I myself have started to do it. When I am annoyed with my little siblings I will hit them on the hand or butt, which I refused to do at the beginning. So I have become to believe that your original shocks and opinions of a culture are good. You should write them down at the beginning, try your best to immerse in the new culture, and then come back and decide what you really believe about the new culture you experienced. 

As I was thinking about this I came across a quote in the book The Shape of the New about Adam Smith’s ethics. “Smithian sympathy means putting ourselves in another’s position, projecting our emoting self into circumstances of someone else, and, however imperfectly going through what they go through. Then, by stepping back as an “Impartial Spectator” we evaluate whether the actions pursued by this other person are good ones, those we would have chosen” (page 38). This year me and my fellow fellows have adapted to the culture well, but I also think that we need to step back and asses what we really believe. As I am going into my last two months I now need to think about the qualities of Senegalese culture that I want to bring home with me. It’s my time to step back and look into myself and look at my experience,  and think about all I have to be grateful for. It’s my time to embrace the culture completely and decide not who I am, but who I want to be. 

Allison Douma