International Service Learning Study Abroad Handbook/Identity shifts
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Culture Shock
- 3 Religion
- 4 Gender Roles and Norms
- 5 Sexual Orientation
- 6 Race
- 7 Boredom
- 8 Homesickness
- 9 New Home Sickness
- 10 References
Before leaving for your service-learning or study abroad trip, it is really imperative that you consider the many effects visiting another culture might have on your identity. How might your identity be viewed within the context of another country? How might your identity need to adapt in order to comply with the social norms of the society? If a country you visit has a very different set of values, your role within that society could very well differ from the role you fulfill in your home. As a result, gender, religion, race, and sexuality may all be challenged within a new context.
In traveling abroad, we are immersed in the values, beliefs, and daily lives of the native culture. Often times, these norms contrast with our own. While there are many benefits of experiencing and interacting with other cultures, some individuals will inevitably have negative experiences. A common problem that occurs with relocation to a foreign area is culture shock.
What is Culture Shock?
As defined by Merriam-Webster, culture shock is “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation.” Basically, being immersed in an unfamiliar environment can create a sense of shock. Despite the impression from this particular definition, culture shock is not always negative. The symptoms of culture shock are vast, and the experience differs from individual to individual. For some, it is merely a feeling is displacement. In more serious cases, stress, anxiety, feelings of helplessness, confusion, lethargy and depression are some of the major effects of the condition. Not every individual will experience all of these factors, and some may not suffer from cultural shock at all. However, it is an entirely normal state, that many are vulnerable to. There is no specific time range where cultural shock will occur. Depending on the situation and circumstance surrounding an person, cultural shock can occur as an initial reaction, or as a consequence of specific events.
How to Deal with Culture Shock
While it may be nearly impossible for a traveler to be completely void of cultural shock, there are certain steps that one can take to ease or prevent it from having serious effects. Perhaps the most significant is preparation. Before departing for your destination, do research on different aspects of the culture. Look for major differences from your own culture, and prepare yourself mentally to adapt to these situations. Take into consideration the other factors discussed thus far such as gender, race, religion, cultural norms, dress, sexuality, etc. You might want to question how your identity will be challenged in this new location, and preemptively consider how to deal with these changes. The more you know about your destination, the more prepared you will be to enter that culture.
Another possible way to prevent or ease cultural shock could be travelling with someone from your country. By having one or more person from your own culture you maybe be able to keep a sense of normality, and feelings of helplessness, anxiety, and depression may be lessened or avoided. Another important thing to remember is to keep an open mind. If you find that native cultural values contradict your own, try to embrace these differences rather than frown upon them. Keep in mind that it is these differences that make these cultures unique from your own, and that embracing these new perspectives will broaden your worldview.
Learning From Culture Shock
Though I have not experienced a severe case of cultural shock myself, I have been pushed outside my comfort zone when travelling abroad. As a freshman, I went to Puerto Rico to help repair houses for local people. Upon our arrival in the home of an elderly couple, we were immediately brought into their family and flowered with affections. I recall a sense of discomfort being so quickly embraced by them. To me, it seemed unusual to be so readily accepted. However, I soon open my mind and heart to the family, and learned to genuinely love their tender spirits. I feel that our culture does not easily embrace strangers, and it was both a learning and emotional experience to temporarily be in a society that did.
When Liz Mogford spent over three years in the Cameroon, she found that she was consistently being introduced to new viewpoints. In her reflection, she explained that culture shock can occur on a spectrum. There are instances that can challenge your entire way of thinking and at times, be difficult to accept. Additionally, there are everyday small occurrences that remind you of the variances between two different paradigms. They do not have to completely shift your worldview, but they can still provide a sense of a shock or sudden realization, which can even be humorous at times, that may not have occurred inside of your home country.
When discussing the matter with her, she recalled an example she had from her time in Cameroon. In her village, there were very many children, and she was frequently surrounded by them. One boy, Abba, stood out to her as a particularly sweet child, and she took an affection for him. One day, Liz had the rare opportunity to make a pan of brownies Typically, the ingredients to make these treats were not available. She was able to make a single pan of brownies. It was certainly not enough to share with 50-60 children, but she wanted to give some to Abba, so she saved a couple and waited for a moment that she could get him by himself so he could enjoy them without creating too much of a scene. Her moment of cultural awakening was the humbling realization that occurred when, right after giving the brownies to the boy, he called in all the children and broke off a piece for each of them. In the end, he didn't eat more than a crumb, but that's all he wanted, because he couldn't enjoy them without sharing.
Liz’s story shows that culture shock can occur in everyday events. Also, it shows that culture shock can be an event that causes you to reflect on your own culture, and perhaps question its norms. The shock, in this case, was for her to realize how she automatically assumed that letting him selfishly hoard the brownies would be a special treat for him. Having all the brownies to himself never even occurred to Abba, whose reaction was to share. In this instance, Liz was challenged to think of how her own values of individualism and self-service were not relevant in Cameroon and the implications of this. She talked about how powerful it was to learn from a child. In a sense, to have a mirror held up to her so that she could see her own selfishness.
Whether culture shock occurs on a large or small scale, it can be a beneficial learning experience for the individual. It can challenge someone to see things differently, and challenge their previous perceptions.
People may also find they deal with the most culture shock coming home from their trip abroad. Molly has been back in America for almost two weeks and is noticing a weird transition. Though it is her second time coming back from a long trip, it is not easier nor less strange. She states, "I find coming home to be very strange, and I almost feel like more of a stranger being back." The culture shock of being home has to do with adjusting to things like driving everywhere, the cost of things, the extremely quick pace of life here and things to get done. These are all big adjustments, but even small adjustments catch her attention, like ordering a small soda, seeing meals big enough to feed an entire household, the huge corporate news sources and the giant stores.
Just being home can be hard to deal with. Back to obligations and reality can be difficult and often the hardest part of traveling. Molly has dealt with not wanting to see anyone but her friends and family. The question becomes, "how do you go from new people and places with a beautifully different culture to the complete opposite and not have a difficult time?"
As Benjamin Button said about coming home, “It’s a funny thing about comin’ home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you.”
Once I returned to the United States after my time in Kenya I experienced a difficult transition. More specifically, there were two challenges that I had to face. These challenges can be attributed to social differences. The first challenge that I experienced was the transition from simple Kenyan life to overly complex and scheduled American life. When I returned, I was inundated with an overwhelming array of responsibilities and deadlines. This made me miss Kenya even more. The second challenge was transitioning from a place with incredibly genuine compassion and sense of community to a place with relative coldness and egocentrism. The more I thought about the cross-cultural differences, the angrier I became. Then, I came to the essential realization that my anger came from a relative comparison of Kenyan and American culture. This is an unfair comparison because culture should not be analyzed through the lens of another culture. Culture must be analyzed through the lens the same culture so that it can be understood in its purest form. Once I came to this realization, the transition was made easier for me.
While it might be difficult or frustrating to come home and try to implement what you have learned, try starting with small and subtle ways. While it might be extreme to eat only what you ate there or never buy anything again, it is easier to start by reducing your water usage, turning off lights, and being more sustainable in general. It is hard to find ways to thank or give back to the people who you met along the way but it is a good start to live as a better, kinder person. Do something nice for a friend or smile at a stranger. Think about how the people you met inspired you and why. While you might feel the need to give or donate, that is not what inspired you about the people you met. Give your time and energy first and do what you can to live like the amazing people you met do.
Religion is defined as a set of beliefs and practices to which a group agrees; often including human origins, a code of morals, a set of rituals, and perhaps an explanation of the significance of life.
Religious differences are prevalent anywhere you go, including your own country, city, school, social group, and maybe even within your family. These differences may become especially apparent when you venture into another country. You will see some cultures in which religion plays a key factor as a bold statement, and others where it is more subtle and personal. Where ever you go, you will be likely to encounter a variety of different belief systems and people who practice these beliefs in different ways. Some of the major world religions include:
Animism and various tribal religions
As well as thousands of other smaller, less universalized religions
Regardless of where you are traveling, it would be a good idea to do a bit of research on the most common religious beliefs and practices of the region where you will be spending time. This way you will not be shocked when you come face to face with perspectives that you were not expecting.
It is important to recognize that all religions are not the same. There are different gods, different practices, different histories, and countless variations in belief systems. Some religions are universalizing, requiring a conscious decision and course of action in order to be a member. These religions are not constrained to any particular group of people, but are open to anyone interested in joining, and often make an effort to recruit new members or spread their beliefs. Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism are some of today's most well known universalizing religions. Ethnic religions are somewhat the opposite. Generally, one is born into an ethnic religion and is naturally integrated as a member by being a part of the culture and group. Ethnic religions are hardly based on a decision, and are very difficult to reject because the rejection of the religion is a rejection of one's culture and people. These religions also tend to be historical and specifically intended for the particular ethnic group to which they pertain. 
Traveling to different parts of the world and being witness to other people’s way of life can make anyone question what they really believe in. After spending seven weeks in Nicaragua during high school and six weeks in Kenya after my freshman year in college, I came across many scenarios that made me question my whole way of thinking. My most meaningful ‘for instance’ was in during my month long stay in Homa Bay.
During Week of Prayer at Ombogo Girls Academy, an all-girls secondary school, numerous students from Western Washington University volunteered to deliver seventeen hour long sermons to the entire school. I was one of those students. The theme of Prayer Week was “God conquers our concerns” and I chose to base my sermon off of the concern of feeling empty. Being able to relate too many of the girls, I talked about the feelings and emotions I experienced after losing a parent. The first time ever I was talking about how I felt after my father passed away. There have been many times in my life when I have questioned my faith and what I believe in. Reciting my sermon and pouring my heart out to girls I had met just two weeks ago changed me. I might not have known if I had faith in God, but I knew I had faith in them. The love the girls showed me when I was the most vulnerable was incredible. They showed me how to have faith in yourself and in the relationships with the people you love.
In Kochia, Kenya Christianity is a huge part of life. People pray with you multiple times a day and the food we were eating, the bus ride we were taking and for a safe trip home. It is important to be aware of how you will be involved in the religion of the place you are visiting and be respectful of their traditions. Even if you are not the same religion as the people respecting their culture and way of life is a must. It is also okay to not be involved in a part of it if it makes you uncomfortable. Being aware of your boundaries is imperative.
Prior to arriving in Kenya I understood that Christianity is the major religion. What I did not yet understand was how big a part of their lives Christianity was. This understanding would only be possible through first-hand experience. Once I arrived, I wondered whether or not I should reveal the fact that I am Jewish because I was worried about the possible reactions. One of the first few days in Kenya, a young girl asked if I was a Christian. I told her a lie and regretted doing so. I felt as if I was devaluing my own religion, and in turn, my individuality. The next time anyone asked what my religion was I told them the truth and the response was always respectful. This experience taught me to embrace your own beliefs even if you run the risk of disrespecting or displeasing someone.
Questions you should ask before you go
What are the main religions in the area you will be visiting?
How much does religion play into everyday life?
How has the history of this country affected their religion?
How do the current politics play into religion in their country? Who funds their programs? Who funds their churches?
Can I speak freely about my religion? How much do I want to?
Is there any religious persecution there?
How do I find information about religion in other countries?
You may find some valuable information at the following websites:
(AND DON'T BE AFRAID TO SEEK MORE)
Gender Roles and Norms
When dealing with travel between cultures, there are important aspects to consider that can seem more personal than dress and your ecological footprint. These include the differences between what Americans consider norms in regards to gender/sexual orientation and even your race. It’s important to understand the gender norms of places you travel to before your trip. For example, women in Middle Eastern countries who practice Islamic traditions often wear a burka, an enveloping outer garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions to cover their bodies in public places, in her travels. In a western and or non-practicing Islamic culture, this practice can be easily seen as oppressive, especially since men are not required to cover themselves. However, after class discussions it has become clearer that this practice is not meant to be oppressive as much as it is meant to protect the women from strange men. By knowing about this norm before your trip, you will be able to enter into the new culture with a clearer and more open mind. You will be able to learn more if you can remain as objective as possible.
It is also important to know about gender roles before your trip because there are often very different ideas about what is acceptable behavior from women. Many women are not allowed to travel without a male companion. If you are a woman and do not feel it necessary to comply, you may face unwanted attention from men. There were several situations talked about in class where females went out to walk/exercise/explore alone and men tried to grab at them and in some cases followed the women around the city. These cultures were not experienced with the idea of a woman being out alone and at times this can be seen as the woman trying to put herself on display.
Transitioning from a Western culture, this could be very difficult. If you travel to these cultures without the knowledge that gender is viewed differently in other areas, you can lose perspective. While it may seem unfair to an American woman how an Islamic woman lives, it is important to remember that not every woman wants to live like an American. Things we consider to be freedoms, may not be desired by women around the world.
It is important to explore the gender roles of the place you are traveling. When I was in Kochia, Kenya I learned a lot about gender roles. It is hard to learn about gender roles by just observing because it is a complex subject. In Kenya it helped to talk to both men and women in different jobs, and in different classes. I got many different answers so it was difficult to make a solid conclusion about gender roles. Kochia is a very rural village in Western Kenya. I saw women doing most of the house work, cooking, washing, and childcare while the men took care of the larger jobs like cattle, farming, and building the house. I had to remember that this was just one small village in Kenya, and not to generalize it to the whole country. When talking with people I met from more urban areas like Nairobi gender roles seemed to change. I also learned that when talking about gender there are certain questions to ask that will get you the answers you want. Instead of asking “Do you feel like men and women are equal?” Ask questions like “Where do you feel like you have the most power?” “How are roles changing over time?” “If you could change anything about gender roles what would you change?”
Being in Kenya for only six weeks and only a few places was not enough time or experience to grasp to complexity of the gender roles of the area. But talking with individuals enlightened me on some of their traditions such as the dowry. By learning through making relationships I learned that the dowry is highly respected in Kenya and women feel very positively toward it. It is a sign of security and pride for them and their marriage. Being open to have your perceptions challenged and remembering that the culture you come from is not always the right way is important to remember. It is not about being right and wrong it is about being different and understanding one another.
It is smart to be considerate of sexual orientation norms when traveling abroad. Some countries you may visit are not as accommodating of variations from the norms, especially homosexuality. In some cultures any deviation from heterosexuality is against the law. Over seventy countries still have these laws, such as Afghanistan, Iran, Senegal, Puerto Rico, Kenya and Jamaica (http://www.publicagenda.org/charts/countries-where-homosexuality-illegal). Punishment in some regions can be extreme as death. One man in Lebanon said that ”the struggles which a homosexual Muslim man faced when reaching marital age and in trying to avoid the stigma associated with being gay” are extreme. He gives an account of abuse incurred from his father for not acting in ways the father considered manly enough (http://www.yalibnan.com/2010/11/09/lebanese-denied-visa-in-australia-over-sexual-orientation/). Amnesty International believes that all humans beings should be able to enjoy the rights declared in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but many face discrimination and abuse because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Amnesty International is calling for the international community to repeal all laws against sexual orientation and to ensure that everyone’s natural human rights are protected, regardless of their sexuality (http://www.amnesty.org/en/sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity). The United Nations has started programs and other commissions to begin protecting sexual orientation in international human rights (http://family.jrank.org/pages/1553/Sexual-Orientation-Sexual-Orientation-Social-Policy.html). Australia and Canada both serve as an example of progress in sexual orientation rights by no longer prohibiting homosexuals from serving in the military.
While traveling abroad, many people may not even think about their sexuality until it becomes a problem. I found that while I was in Kenya, the act of hiding my sexual orientation became a huge challenge for me. I was so used to making everyday comments indicative of my sexuality back at home, and was forced to become hyper aware of them while in Kenya. I found it to be a major challenge to me that while I made great friends in Kenya, they didn't know part of me. I was torn about the fact that I felt like it was such an integral part of who I am, but people I was calling best friends didn't know that about me. However, I also found that it was something that didn't affect my relationships. My friendships were genuine, even without knowing that. I think the experience I had of having to hide that about myself has made me more dedicated to creating an open, safe environment for people who do not follow the heterosexual normative, and how important it is to provide worldwide human rights under the basis of sexual orientation.
Sometimes, one’s beliefs might conflict with that of the culture. In Kenya, it is illegal to be homosexual. Yet as a psychology major who believes that homosexuals should have equal rights, I encountered an uncomfortable experience when a professor and friend asked me to help him answer a psychological homework problem. The situation was that “5 female students were expelled due to lesbianism” and I had to “A. Describe multiple psychological reasons for this maladjusted behavior” and “B. Suggest forms of punishment or action for each psychological theory”. I felt uncomfortable remaining silent and expressing my views. I told him that the APA removed homosexuality as a mental illness so I couldn’t comment on it psychologically, but when he asked my personal viewpoints and how I would counsel someone with this “problem” I had to state my views and how I was raised. I told him that I was taught to not view it as a problem and to counsel with the idea that someone accepts their identity. However, while he didn’t agree with my opinion, he was very understanding that in America, we do things differently. While, I don’t think it would be a good idea to attack their beliefs or laws, I think it’s important to share your thinking in a respectful way.
One of the last things I expected to do on the trip was dance with another guy. Got your attention? Good. Within the first few days of the trip I was confronted with the stark differences in the ways cultures can approach gender roles. In the United States, where homosexuality has become widely accepted, there lasts a sort of hyper-awareness in which straight men make certain not to be mistaken as gay. In Kenya, where homosexuality is illegal, men are shamelessly friendly to other men, because everyone is expected to be straight. At first this seemed counter-intuitive to me, and it took me a while to adjust to the way that typical Kenyan men relate. I was caught off guard when men would grab my hand, or be so immediately friendly and welcoming, and I would express a sort of reactionary awkwardness, withholding my own welcome. Though I wish I had let go of my preconceptions sooner, I eventually became accustomed to this harmless and friendly sign of respect. At first confused by the man who stood, facing me at the club, demonstrating an East African dance move, I eventually learned how to throw one back at him.
What are your country’s relations with the country you’re traveling to? If you are a white person traveling to Africa, you may be met with more apprehension in a region that has a legacy of slavery. While you were most likely not directly involved with the slave trade, you have benefited from the culminating effects of being white. You may be faced with association with those who were and still are taking active roles in suppressing other cultures. Therefore, it is important to research your country’s history with the region to which you are traveling. Once you are aware of the history and past events, you can be more sensitive and open minded to the people you encounter. If you meet situations with this type of mindset, this could serve as a way to ease future relations.
There are histories of colonialism and foreign aid in regions such as Africa. This legacy of colonialism has had profound effects on the countries' development and often represent reasons why Western cultures view them as underdeveloped. As a foreigner, it is important to understand the impacts past events have on the present. These past events will also effect relations. People living in less developed countries are not incompetent, they are simply facing a culmination of obstacles. When traveling to these countries, treat those living there with respect because often times they are not looking for a westerner to "save" them.
It also important to consider how the perception of your race might alter in a new location. For example, in America, many of us may identify with a particular part of our ancestry that is different from a white, European background. Those who are multiracial may choose to identify with the more ethnic side of their heritage, rather than the European side. When traveling abroad, however, your racial or ethnic identity is likely to be perceived as the more homogenous "white American." While it may feel as though there is a disconnect between how you view yourself and how you are viewed by locals, you are likely to become more aware of your own cultural identity while abroad. For example, though you might identify as a different ethnicity or race while in America, going abroad may show you how your paradigm is structured by a society that is predominantly white.
African Americans also struggle with this, especially when visiting Africa. They may feel a sense of homecoming and excitement to be back in the land of their ancestry. However the people living there often still see them as foreigners. They are often times viewed as black Americans, instead of African Americans. There are some countries though, such as Ghana, who make it easier for black Americans by providing them with "right of abode". This right allows them those who qualify to work and own property within the country, eventually making it easier to assimilate. (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6818533/ns/us_news-life/t/some-black-americans-returning-africa/)
When we were in Kenya, I had a difficult time when it came to my race. Being Korean, I was the only non-white person on the trip. All of the Kenyans called me Chinese. At first I would explain that I am not Chinese, I am Korean. I even brought a map of Asia to the school with a circle around Korea that I could show the girls. But then I realized that when I told them I was Korean they thought that I was a Korean citizen that I left Korea to go to Kenya. So then I started saying that I was American and then people just stopped believing me, saying that I must be Chinese because I look so "chinky". I don't really know how I felt about it and I still don't. I wasn't offended by it because I grew up in the midwest where my family was the only Asian family around and I was always made fun of because I was Asian. But this was different. It felt like they were not letting me claim an identity. Most of them didn't acknowledge that Korea was an actual place outside of China or understand how I could not be white and be from America. It was difficult but I grew to accept it and remember that I can still claim my identity as a Korean American. Also, to the girls that became my close friends my race didn't matter, I was just Nicole. And that made it much easier to brush it off when a stranger called me chinky.
While having the pleasure to interact with Kenyans on the trip, I often noticed a brief grace period between initial acknowledgement of differences, and the eventual acknowledgement of more substantial similarities. In Kochia, where many of the local children have never seen a caucasian, they would point and yell "mzungu!" as we passed. The wide eyes and timid stares we received is the sort of greeting I would expect to be given to a Martian. Yet eventually, these children began walking with us, grasping hands securely as they led us around. I recall the frequency that I would have my skin squished and examined, leg hairs tugged and plucked, and hair pulled. One child in particular took careful time, poking my arm and freckles, sizing up each one of my knuckles individually. After fully investigating the shape and consistency of my arms, legs, and head, he concluded, "you're almost African!" Whether he expected scales and tentacles, I'm not sure, but what I am certain about is that by allowing time for locals, and especially children, to investigate you, the quicker that mythical differences that at first separate us, can be efficiently dispelled.
Will I get bored?
Depending on the amount of structure involved in your trip, you may or may not experience boredom. According to Webster boredom is "the state of being weary and restless through a lack of interest." The hope in traveling to another country is that there will be no lack of interest. However, as a human, it is possible that you will find yourself bored at least once. The good news is, there are many solutions to boredom!
In Kenya we were always together and always had something to do so boredom was not an issue. And when we did have a day off, it was a relief and an opportunity to rest and hang out. Although we made many friendships with locals in the village, we became a very tight group where we supported each other and laughed together. We learned how to pass the time together and used our time well so we could experience as much as we could. Going on walks was a common activity of choice during down times and was also an excellent way to get to know each other.
What should I do if I get bored?
Just because you are not at home does not mean that people don't enjoy any of the things you enjoy. As you travel to the country that you are visiting, take the time to make a list of 10-15 things you would like to do if you got bored on the trip. Think about the opportunities you will have at your destination and take them into consideration as you draw up your list. You can even add to your list as something to do should you get bored. Here area few other ideas:
Strike up conversation with the people around you. This might serve to be a perfect opportunity to practice the language or learn about the culture. Not to mention, you will make friends if you are social. Ask all kinds of questions. Ask random questions that draw out laughter, ask provoking questions that challenge people's understandings, and ask questions about experiences, about culture, about family. These conversations could lead to friendships that eliminate the possibility of boredom at all.
During my time in Kenya, the most important thing I did was strike up conversation with locals. I had so many questions for them, and I found they had just as many for me. By having these conversations, I also bonded with these people I met, and formed lasting relationships. People want to tell their stories, and have so many insightful things that can be shared. I would often ask people about their families, goals, lifestyles, wants and desires, hardships, struggles, ambitions, and histories. Or would ask them cultural questions about religion, housing, politics, history, global issues, climate change, or gender roles. These are topics that I think are vital to the understanding of a culture. During these conversations, I had many people also ask me about life in America, our culture, and my family and lifestyle choices. It was often a very equal relationship that I formed, where we both were able to both give and take in the learning exchange.
Many times boredom can be a result of being tired. If you are feeling lazy or unmotivated, try a quick nap or a brisk walk to rejuvenate your body. You could also play a game. Ask the people you have traveled with or are staying with if they would like to play a game and play it.
Another idea to combat boredom is to write about your experiences. Take a small journal or notebook and a pen whenever you can in case your plans change and you find yourself becoming bored. You can write about the events going on, your emotions, your reactions to cultural differences, and many other things, and in the end you will have a written memory of your journey, including all of your ups and downs and relationships and challenges.
Do I need permission to do something?/Can I do it alone or do I need a partner?
The answers to these questions will vary depending on your group. It is important that you know the rules of your group and organization so that you do not lose their trust. You also ought to have some knowledge of the area you are in and the conditions and safety of your area. If you a feeling bored, there may be others who are feeling the same way. Together you might be able to stroll through town or visit a historical location.
In addition to culture shock, traveling abroad can also cause an individual to have feelings of homesickness. Being apart from home for such any amount of time can result in this; however, it will likely be more formidable when traveling long distances to a new culture. Therefore, one should take into consideration the possibility that this will occur and prepare for it in advance. A potential way to fight homesickness is to remain in contact with friends and family during your trip. It may not be realistic or desirable to rely on internet connections for access to Skype, e-mail, or Facebook. Another possible alternative would be to buy a cell phone that will work in the country you plan to stay in. This will allow you speak directly with those at home for a reasonable price.
If costs or other factors prohibit you from purchasing a cell phone, a phone card would serve the same purpose, assuming you will be staying in an urban area where you will have access to phone booths. Otherwise, traditional mail would be a great way to keep in touch. Though it may take longer to correspond with each other, letters are highly personal, and could contain photos, stories, newspaper clippings, and more. It may be beneficial to arrange with friends an family a way to contact each other via mail before you leave. You could possibly suggest that they mail you before your journey, so that before you arrive, you will already have a piece of home making its way to you.
Another thing to consider is to bring small, memorable items with you. These items could serve as a way to provide comfort during your stay. If you choose to do so, however, consider that these items should be travel-sized and not incredibly significant. That way, if the item were to be misplaced or lost, it would not be a huge loss. Bringing pictures of home that can be safely tucked away would be both realistic and comforting. You could also use these images to connect to locals. By sharing with them these photos of your family and friends, you can help establish relationships with them while easing some of the feelings of homesickness.
New Home Sickness
Depending on your experience, you may discover that you have found another home during your time overseas. I certainly did. In Kenya I had 130 new sisters, some of whom became my dearest friends; I had a group of "Mama's" at the home we were staying in, who cooked for us, taught us how to cook, welcomed us everyday, and missed us while we were at school; I had a future mother in law who jokingly wanted me to marry her ten year old son, but truly loved me like a daughter; and I had a surrogate father who made me laugh at every meal and told us story after story after story. The day we left Kochia, I felt like I was leaving my family and it was harder than leaving my biological family.
Of course it was wonderful to be reunited with my true mother, father, sister, and dog, but the process of getting used to being away from my Kenya family was infinitely worse than any home-sickness I had while traveling. So if and when you are facing home sickness for your new home, it is important to remember that it is normal to miss people and places where you left your heart. Take some time to adjust back to life and instead of holding onto the sadness of leaving, choose to celebrate the time that you had and the relationships you made. As Winnie said, "You just have to get used to it." You don't have to forget anything or anyone, and you don't have to "move on with your life," you just have to get used to it.
- Xia, Junzi 2009 Analysis of Impact of Culture Shock on Individual Psychology. International Journal of Psychological Studies 1(2): 97-101
- "Major Religions Ranked by Size." World Religions Religion Statistics Geography Church Statistics. 9 Aug. 2007. Web. <http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html>
- "Ethnic vs Universal Religions." Northern Virginia Community College. 3 Mar. 2011. Web. <http://www.nvcc.edu/home/lshulman/rel100/resources/ethnic_religions.htm>.