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Culture Shock

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This article is a personal reflection and therefore the observations and the perspective taken by the author should not be generalised to reflect the diverse culture or societal values of China. An invitation is extended to other writers come travellers who can confirm, add or substantiate the information contained in this article.

What is culture shock? The English (UK) Encarta Dictionary defines culture shock as a "Sudden exposure to unfamiliar culture. The feelings of confusion and anxiety experienced when an individual or a group suddenly finds itself in an unfamiliar cultural environment".

I grew up within a culture dominated by the Australian way of life beginning in 1951 and except for a twelve month "tour of duty" in the military outside Australia I have lived and worked in Australia. Paramount to my enculturation was the education I received from the young age of five years old and which continued into my late teens. My values were firmly structured and permeated by a society steeped in Anglo-Saxon tradition and Christian religiosity. All-the-while, in another part of the world, my destiny had an appointment with the extraordinary and mysterious culture of China. Apart from the few months I had to research the customs, values and language of China, I had not given attention to this "juggernaut of civilization" that for centuries had remained shrouded in mystery and feared by the democratic "free world". Throughout Australia’s history its foreign policy had seen China as a hostile country having a population that dwarfed the Australian continent and had a political system with values and beliefs opposed to the core values and ethos esteemed by Australians. However, a series of revolutions and counter-revolutions and the tentacles of capitalism and consumerism have transformed many of the old perspectives about China. I have yet to form an opinion on how to best describe China today. One phrase I have in mind is "a juggernaut of continuous change that appears to be dismantling an ancient and creditable culture". The rest is guesswork.

So here I am, teaching Oral English to both kindergarten and primary school children in present day China in the province of Jiangsu. I have survived the initial culture-shock of language, customs, food and the extraordinary density of population. However, after being her six weeks I was struggling to remain motivated to stay. It was during those few weeks that I was grieving the loss of being with the woman who I love very much, the comfort and love of family and friends and the clean fresh air of south-east Queensland. I felt almost totally cut off from all things familiar – hugs, food, love, friendship and knowing my way around town. I was facing an identity crisis and so very much alone. Thanks to modern technology – internet and telephone – I was able to find an oasis of emotional and psychological support from people back home. I also had promised myself that I would visit home the first holiday break I had. I was able to go home for eight days after being in China for three months. I have been in China since 29th January 2004 and my contract is for 12 months.

I think confidentially is important so I will not be mentioning the actual name of the school where I teach, not will I be using the names of real people. However, I will adopt pseudo characters based on my observations and experiences. So let me make it very clear that what I have written in the article is limited to my personal perspective.
Author: Paul A Hodge