Culture shock to me isn't experiencing the differences between cultures. I think anyone with some level of 'cultural elasticity' can experience and process the differences between Culture A, or their "home" culture, and Culture B, the foreign culture they are in. I've traveled to over 20 countries now. I've laughed at bathroom door signs, marveled at driving on the left (i.e. wrong) side of the road, eaten things that would make a hotdog factory blush. I've seen the riches of Paris, the slums of Haiti, and while they all elicited an mental and emotional response, I still wouldn't say that it was the dreaded shock that I hear so much about.
The shock comes later. It sneaks up on you as your elasticity wears down. Your elasticity is the honeymoon period after you get married. Those first few months are great. Sure he's different, but he's fun different right? Life's an adventure right? But.....then again, what's with picking his toe nails while watching TV, and speaking of TV, I don't mind the commercials, but nooooo, Commander Remote-Control over there is trying to watch three shows at once, gosh that's so annoying. Who knew guys were so stinky, forget car emissions, I think he's personally responsible for global warming.
Simply put, your cultures are different, and you're built to prefer your 'normal'. You start out nice and all, and your cultural elasticity is in full-effect, but soon the conversations change from your romantic future, to a realization that he smells worse than you thought, and your apple pie is like 'ashes in his mouth' compared to his moms. But you know what, you get through it, and slowly you develop your 'new normal'.
It hit me last week. The real culture shock. It's that moment when your elasticity is tired. Your emotions and mind have the following conversation:
Emotions: I think I'm ready to go now.
Emotions: Yeah, I would kinda like to go home (culture A), I miss the house, our friends, my office. I miss monday morning staff meetings, my cublicle, my leather desk chair. I'm ready to be able to go, to understand, to communicate, to be near family, to go to our home church, to celebrate holiday's, to cuddle our dog, eat a Chick-Fil-A sandwich, see a movie without subtitles, yada yada yada.
Mind: Sounds great.
Emotions: Yeah, don't get me wrong, it's been great, but I'm ready to go.
Mind: Too bad, you live here now.
And that's the shock.
Please don't misunderstand me. It's not a commentary on this country we live in, our calling, or even culture B. It has nothing to do with the fact that we love Hungary, and even if we weren't here as missionaries, I'd strongly consider just living and working here. But there simply the point where your body flips a switch and says, "I'm ready to go home now." Except this is your home. You're not on vacation. You're not going anywhere.
So what's the cure. Well....it's the same cure as it was for dirty socks under the bed, and the burnt dinner last night. Simply, it's commitment. It's time. It's pushing through to the other side, when it's not simply Culture A vs. Culture B, but rather Culture AB. When assimilation occurs and you find that while you love your friends, family, tastes of home, etc, you find close friends as we have, favorite foods as we have, and even those who feel like family. While you'll never be fully Culture B, assimilation to a certain extent is a must. Otherwise you will always live in culture shock, a nomadic emotional waste-land where you constantly pine for what you can't have. That's no way to live at all, and will simply burn out.
So we chose to push on through to the other side. Why? Because we're committed, we believe in what we're doing, and we will see it through. Our family will become Culture AB, loving home, but making a home in Hungary.