University of Wisconsin–Madison

Real Talk (Culture Shock)

I’ve waited a while to write this because every time I think I’m over culture shock, something strange happens and it hits me all over again. My first indicator that I may be finally getting used to the world around me was when I went out for dinner with some co-workers and, out of the 6 course of various unknown meats, vegetables and other indescribable food offered to me, I did not ask or question any of the food offered to me! I have come a long way from the girl who would question any meat that wasn’t chicken or bacon to eating mussels, octopus, bamboo and fish on the regular (yes I’m serious people love bamboo and octopus in Japan).

So first, for anyone who has not travelled outside the states, culture shock is not a myth and if (when) you experience culture shock, you are not weak or just hangry (combination of hungry and tired). Culture shock is real and culture shock is inevitable. I have travelled before coming to Japan and have felt varying degrees of culture shock before, but I figured I would only experience culture shock in Japan for 2-3 weeks max. Sure it became less pronounced near the end (and it may not be the end yet) of my 14 weeks so far in Japan.

My first week I was overwhelmed by a combination of little to no sleep and a series of highly organized days planned by the company I am interning with left little time to think about anything other than getting home to sleep. The next two weeks or so I was euphoric about being in such a new place and getting the exciting opportunity to research independently! But when the fourth and fifth week came along, the first major negative swing of culture shock blindsided me. While I had had minor downs the first fews weeks, it was mainly “sunny blue skies”, but now I found myself crying for seemingly no reason, cutting myself off from the people at the dormitory and at work and trying to sleep as much as possible. I thought everything was bad from the food to the trains to my long work hours. Then I came to the realization that this was culture shock, and once I was able to label why I was feeling the way I did, I was immediately able to combat my negative feelings with positive ones (that and talking a lot with my family back home about how I was feeling).

The sixth week and on I made myself more of a schedule to follow, which included daily meditation, working out, weekly calls with my family, Netflix time (on the commute home) and making dinners sometimes myself instead of eating the dinners from the dormitory.

I was still feeling minor ebbs and flows of notable cultures shock through my 9th week such as homesickness and making cultural mistakes, but I didn’t have any problems as bad as in the fourth and fifth weeks. My family did come to visit me for a week, and when they left again I felt the downward tug of being alone, but I think I have mostly recovered since. I’m on the home stretch of this internship in Japan and I’m actually starting to feel at home here! I better start bracing myself for reverse culture shock when I get home.