During the first week, I gradually identified what emotions for me lay behind the culture shock. On one of the nights that I couldn’t fall asleep, my mind was engaged in a lot of introspection and I finally figured out exactly what was specifically bothering me in those early days. It was fear. I’m sure part of that fear came from the Overseas Security Seminar we attended a couple of weeks before arriving. It was 2 days worth of some sort of evil lurking around the corner everywhere you go. Compound that with being surrounded by strangers and hearing stories about people’s houses being burglarized made me feel like I wasn’t safe anywhere. There was a slight terror building in my heart to feel like there was no place I felt safe. I would think it’s enough to make anyone want to curl up in a little ball and block the world out. At least, when I came to this realization, that’s what I wanted to do.
I’ve learned that for any overwhelming emotion, if you sit with it, experience it without any analyzing, explanation or thought to it, it lessens its hold on you and it melts away. So, I tried it that night because the fear was so overwhelming and in a short amount of time, the tightness in my heart lifted. The next day, I felt much calmer. When we went to the school for JP to take his screening test, I was not filled with the anxiety I felt several days before when I went grocery shopping by myself. (An experience I survived by the way, despite the fact that everything was in French! Good thing for pictures!)
Another emotion I figured out was helplessness and I hate feeling helpless. Matty had a difficult time adjusting to all of the differences (his whole world has been turned upside-down) and while I can create a schedule for him, it will take time for him to realize that’s the new schedule and be at ease. However, I just feel so helpless because there’s not much I can do to ease his anxiety and disorientation now.
At one point, I was completely phoneless (in addition to car-less and internet-less) and the water distiller started leaking pretty badly. Nothing I did stopped the leaking and I couldn’t call Brian to call someone to come and fix it. A brief moment of panic set in as I wondered how long it would be until I could borrow someone’s phone (ironically, at this time our phone line was being installed, but only people could call in while I couldn’t call out) and how long it would take for the kitchen to flood. In the end, I remembered there was a bucket in the house so that at least contained the water until I could borrow a phone.
Towards the end of the first week, I was pondering the whole experience and wondering if anyone has ever looked at culture shock from a psychological perspective. I did read a book about a year ago on culture shock as an expat family. However, it was more from a personal perspective on what the symptoms are, when it happens, and that it will pass.
It seems, to me at least, that culture shock is when you are stripped of all of the things you associate with your identity: your routines, your belongings, even the environment that surrounds you day to day. I wondered if people go through the exact same thing when they’re first incarcerated. Going to jail seems to be another situation where you’re stripped of all things that make you you and a similar adjustment period occurs. I wonder if culture shock isn’t really disorientation from being in a different culture, but from being stripped of the things that you associate with your identity. I would imagine that if incarcerated folks go through the same thing, it’s not really culture shock but something else. (Before posting this, I decided to do a google scholar search and there are tons of psychology related articles about culture shock and loss of identity. Apparently, greater minds than mine have already cracked that nugget!)
Our air shipment (5 boxes of our stuff) arrived 5 days after we got here. Brian called it Christmas all over again…lol. It was nice to get our things but it didn’t fully help the emotions I was going through. Strangely enough, what did seem to help immensely was moving the furniture around. I decided to move some of the furniture around just to try out the new layout before the rest of our things come. It seems like exerting some control and making the environment of my own choosing helped me feel like my old self again.
After about a week and a half, Matty settled into a sleep schedule and wasn’t as fussy as he was during the first 3-4 days. He’s was still going through a major separation anxiety period, and wanted me to hold him all the time. I quickly became a taxi. He would point to where he wanted me to take him. Ironically enough, JP was the one to settle in and he was the one we were most worried about. He usually has a hard time with change and so we were worried that he was going to have a really hard time when we first arrived. So far, he’s been happy as a clam but I plan to keep an eye on him because it could just hit him a little later.