Katie, Tory, and I have all decided we are in phase two of culture shock. As Katie, pointed out this means we have been here (the Balkans) long enough to be in phase two. She said it was something to be celebrated. This is the phase where the rose-colored glasses come off and you see all the negative things in a culture and your own culture becomes idealized (or at least that is my slant on the definition I got from Wikipedia). It is nice to know that these emotions are common enough to have made it to Wikipedia and I am not alone in my struggles to adjust to a new culture. It's weird to be in this phase. I realized that this is about the time you head home if you are doing a study abroad program in a different culture.
My feelings toward the culture here are so ambivalent. I don't hate it here. In fact, most days I think I like it. I can even admit that on days like today when there have been massive demonstrations in the streets and I have to take precautions to avoid being noticed as a foreigner (or even worse as an American). Even with all of that there are things here that I already appreciate. Today after my language class I went out for a drink with my classmates. Most of them sat and moaned about how much they hate it here. It was frustrating. I’m wondering if they are all in phase two. Some of them have been here for the same amount of time as me and others for longer periods of time. It made me think – is it possible to get stuck in phase two? I feel like it could be, especially for people such as me who are prone to a healthy dose of realism (which some of my friends choose to label as cynicism). This made me a little nervous. I don’t want to be one of those people who can is sits and thinks about the superiority of my own culture while sitting in another country. Although I think it would be difficult for me to bask in the superiority of US culture since I personally dislike so many things about that culture (lifestyle and governmental policies), I do see where it would be possible for me to find a sense of superiority within my own personal culture and beliefs. I think it would be very easy for me to just uproot myself from my little bubble in the US only to recreate that bubble within Serbia and never have to truly open myself up to the new ideas and new culture here. In my panic of being the person who gets stuck in phase two, I was wondering if there was some way I could skip over it – if there was some way I was guaranteed to do it right so I don’t get stuck here (here being phase two, not Serbia). I realize that is probably a lame idea since phase two of culture shock is an important step to making it to the next stage(s) of culture shock. I am waiting for that stage where I feel at home in the new culture and have a sense of belonging. I’m not sure if that is the third phase, the fourth phase, or a non-existent phase. Everyone’s definition of culture shock seems to vary after the first two stages. I take that to mean that stage one and two are classifiable and inevitable, but anything after that is what you make of it (my conclusion here could be completely wrong, but it seems to work for now).
So, here I am grappling with letting myself be really open to this new culture and let the good things sink in without letting the bad things overwhelm me. I’m not sure what that means and how that looks, but I am determined not to get stuck in phase two.
-- Katie M (Belgrade, Serbia)