Friday, May 20, 2011

Culture Shock

Culture shock is real. I traveled to 27 countries over a period of 6 years and I thought I had experienced culture shock. I saw shocking things, but never really experienced true culture shock. The reason being, I have discovered, that I never LIVED in those places. The two places I did live, Auckland and Sydney, are both “Western” countries. Thus the culture differences in those cases were small quirky things that people mostly find comedic “Why do you call a Band-aid a plaster?” “Why are you laughing at me because I said I am rooting for my boyfriend who is playing soccer”...etc.

Beijing (I will not speak for all of China) and the US could not be more different. The US is not perfect, but it is my home. China is the new “land of opportunities” and that's the reason we moved here. Here, both hubs and I are working and making a sustainable income. Here we can pay of debt and start saving for the future. Here we can learn Mandarin and become more marketable. Yet...I have not been happy here. I just admitted that out loud yesterday for the first time and its like a weight off my shoulders. I spend most days focusing on the differences and how I wish Beijing was more like the US. I have not accepted that China is different and that's OK. I have been very stressed lately dealing with this and have had a low grade fever for over 2 weeks. No I am not joking. This pattern I have established is not healthy, for me or my marriage.

I am aggravated with everything around me and when I'm not aggravated, I'm sad, or sick. My job is not fulfilling me and it's no mystery why. I majored in Child and Family Development not Professional Recruitment. I want to get my Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and work with couples, parents and children. But...grad school is expensive and I would have to take an online graduate program from Beijing. Are online schools really as reputable as campus based schools? Part time or full time? I have been thinking I could go to one of the expat hospitals and see about what kinds of positions I am eligible for, but will that be enough to sustain us? Student loans...and more debt. Not part of our original China plan. The course they offer at Pacific University in MFT looks amazing...can I find something that great online? Opinions?

So, here is what I've decided... Happiness is a state of mind. You can be miserable anywhere if you want to be, and the same goes for happiness. I can be happy here just like I can be happy in Atlanta. That being said, I have spent so long seeing things as temporary...high school, college, Atlanta and now Beijing. It gives me an excuse to not try too hard...because I'm just going to leave so whats the point. I am not a sad person, I am a happy and sarcastic person, and I need to settle in here and make some changes.

This has never been more thought provoking to me...
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.

I can not change the fact that there are parts to Beijing I dislike, and certain habits of the Chinese that I find rude and abrasive. It's a different culture and the Chinese people that I have gotten to know have all been very nice to me. I will not complain about things I cannot change ANYMORE. Laugh, but not complain.

Now onto another step into my “new Beijing”. I concluded that I was allergic to gluten and lactose about a year ago. My grandmother, who I was very close to and shared a birthday with, had died. I had finished college only to find the job market less than accommodating. I was deciding whether to break up with W and stay in Atlanta or marry him and move to the other side of the globe. That caused it's fair share of familial tension. Role it into a tidy ball and you will notice I dealt with a LOT of stressors. Take this questionnaire...both hubs and I scored over 450.

So...are my allergies psychosomatic? Will they go away if I work through my stressors and move on with my life? Time will tell.

Sorry that was a lot of baggage dropped all at once, but I feel better working through it all on paper...and then Word... and then the blog. :)


  1. I can totally understand how you're feeling on so many different levels. Firstly, I'm only just now starting to feel comfortable in Hong Kong, and only now just being able to see past the crap and the things that annoy me, and relish the positives. I'm not 100% there yet, but I know, I'm getting there. Time is definitely the answer here. And secondly, when I was living apart from my then boyfriend (now husband), I developed a terrible stomach "situation". I couldn't keep anything down, had all sorts of tests (colonoscopy, endoscopy etc), only to come up with nothing. In the end, we put it down to stress, and when my situation with my boyfriend was sorted, the symptoms went away..... I"m a strong believer that stress plays a HUGE roll on your body and can manifest itself in different ways. So again, give it time. Hopefully you'll find that balance soon and will feel more comfortable with the way life is going..... xx
    (sorry about the long comment!)

  2. The long comment is great, I like to hear that I'm not the only one whose been through this! Appreciate it!

  3. You just described my first year living in France. I was miserable and hated my life here, I missed EVERYTHING from back home. Hang in there, I hope it gets easier.

  4. Thanks...I have been trying to consciously be more positive and its helping actually.

  5. I think the key is to persevere! Everyone who lives in another country goes through culture shock, and it usually comes in stages. Only after you've stuck it out, acknowledged it (that's half the battle!), and made steps to overcome it will you one day come to love the culture. You are definitely in another country is a lot different than just visiting! (and China especially!)

    If it helps when you're "culture shocking," do something that you really *shouldn't* do, like stay inside all day, order pizza, and watch movies. Avoid the culture. But only let yourself do it for one day. And enjoy that day! Then get back out there and try to acclimate.

    I also think you should evaluate if you have any local friends or not. If you don' should try to do something to make some friends, because as great as husbands are, friends are necessary too, especially for women. I think that if you spend some time analyzing your friendships (or lack thereof), determining what frustrates you about the culture (not so you can FIX it, but so you can acknowledge it), and deciding how you can work through these things, you might find yourself liking your life and focusing on the positive even more...without even having to try. =)

    Hope these suggestions help. Culture shock stinks, and it's real. Don't let it win.