Thursday, November 8, 2012

Culture Shock in Saudi Arabia

Culture shock is defined in Collins American Dictionary as: “the feelings of isolation, rejection, etc, experienced when one culture is brought into sudden contact with another, as when a primitive tribe is confronted by modern civilization.” 

Did you know, that no one is immune to culture shock, no matter our prior travelling experiences? Several stages occur when one is immersed in another culture. The first stage is “the honeymoon phase” where everything seems new and perfect and exciting. I did go through that stage already and it lasted about 2 months. Then, Ramadan happened and that was a bit hard adjusting to having no eating places open for breakfast or lunch (even Starbucks!) I made it through.

The second stage is “The Honeymoon is Over Phase.” One is inundated with sadness and/or anger. Everything just seems wrong and total opposite of what you are used to. The people and their practices seem strange, transportation practices are odd and hygiene practices become strange.  This is by far the toughest stage. I experienced some moments of sadness, but just a few times. I cried a few times when my oven exploded-twice (Since writing this, I got a small counter top electric oven, to avoid future explosions). I also cried when I locked myself out of my apartment by accident and had to wait an hour to get back in (I've done this once again, since writing this). So, my tears were more of frustration than of sadness and this happened just in certain situations. Next, was being angry and this is the stage that I went through several weeks ago. I was in the mood of blaming difficult situations on the country itself. I was angry that my kids school was not anything like what I expected. I was angry that I am still on a Visit visa (after 4 months)! Also, I was just plain sad and angry about the weight that I am gaining here. On the other hand, sadness emerged when I realized that there is no place near our apartment for children to play at-like parks, sidewalks, etc…

The third phase is the “Negotiation Phase” where one decides to either deal with it all or leave and go back to the country where you began. This is a tough place to be, mentally. It is hard to sleep and hard to be out in the new society. Your mind is filled with constant questioning and decision making. 

“The everything’s ok Stage” is the fourth one. You begin understanding  and accepting the ways of the people. You can communicate with the locals and you don’t feel like an outsider anymore. This stage occurred when I initially arrived to Saudi Arabia.  I felt like I blended in nicely being that most of the people here speak English. Many are from: the Phillipines, Pakistan, Africa and Bangladesh, India, South African, the UK, Australia, and Egypt. On the other hand,  Last month, I ran into a very mean lady who yelled at me because she did not get her order taken before me at Starbucks. I was in line in front of her! This was a shocking incident, to say the least! Also, I had a lady bash me with her shopping cart-twice-and I still don’t know why! Thankfully, I have met some very nice and friendly locals too. The mean ones just tend to stick out more (sadly). So, I guess I can safely say that I have accumulated to the culture by experiencing both negative and positive social actions!

My anger and sadness has luckily passed, although it took over a month. It was during month 4 of living here. Month 5 has amazingly begun and I am mentally doing just fine. I have accepted the culture and learned where not to go when I am in a bad mood. I have also realized that by going shopping in the daylight hours, I see more expats! I have recently had some new opportunities here presented to me. As a result, my spirits have lifted and I am looking forward to our continued future here in Saudi Arabia!         -Andrea

I am now in my 6th month. I am have been in the "negotiating stage" for the last part of month 5 and it has been 2 1/2 weeks of negotiating. How wierd it is to go through this stage. For today, at least, I am over it and past it. I hope this stage doesn't come back. It was very dark and sad. At least twice a day, I made plans of working somewhere else, living somewhere else, and moving somewhere else...anywhere but here! I drove myself crazy making decisions and changing decisions back and forth. I simply could not find a solution for all of my "problems" that I was facing. During this time, in desperation, I talked to my friends and family on the phone, on facebook, and through e-mail....about 15 people total. I felt really crazy and out of my mind...but honestly, getting their perspective and honest advice really helped me. They all gave the same advice as well. "Just stick with this-you can do it-chin up-etc....." I also read ALOT of other expat blogs from Americans living in other countries. So many of them were experiencing the same "culture shock" type feelings. I did not feel crazy anymore-whew! The most important factor that I haven't mentioned yet is that my faith in God has guided me through this. Through daily prayer and reading of the Word, I was able to put some positive thinking into my emotional heart. I kept hearing "wait" and "be patient." It was so hard, but God did bring me over this hump. I feel very humbled now and know that without God as my guide, I would have gone literally-crazy! I am thankful that it didn't happen.


Clipart from:

For your entertainment, check out this video that represents how one feels when moving into a new country: 

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