Culture shock -- I really dislike it. Just when I think I've adjusted, stage two hits for no apparent reason, and I am irritated and annoyed with everything around me.
During our first-week training, our cultural instructor talked a lot about culture shock and its four stages. The first one is when everything is either wonderful or terrifying, depending on one's personality. Being a fearless romantic, for me, everything in a new culture is wonderful. Stage two is riddled with irritability and annoyance at everything about the new culture. Stage three is characterized by acceptance of and adaptation into the new culture. And in stage four, new knowledge and growth brings about on-going changes in the person, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
I thought that I had moved beyond stage two, but it seems that I regressed today.
Friday when Tea and I were on our way into Zugdidi, I commented to her that things around me seem much more normal than they did when I first arrived. The style of houses, the rusty fences, the vegetation, the cows everywhere, the horrible driving, the way people dress, the lack of teeth (in other people's mouths, not mine!), the food, the language both written and spoken -- it is all becoming familiar. That was a nice feeling.
Then today hit.
I had no reason at all to be frustrated and annoyed today, but I was. At school I was frustrated that the fourth graders keep pronouncing "th" as an "s" even though I have gone over the pronunciation of that letter combination at least thirty times. One of my co-teachers is still giving very basic commands to the lower classes in Georgian even though we have talked about the importance of using English instead. I was annoyed at being told to eat khatchapuri and drink coffee because it is cold outside. Noise of all sorts bothered me today -- here in Georgia, it is completely impossible to get away from noise at school; and at the house, when it is cold and rainy out like it was today, straying out into the hazelnut orchards or by the river for some quiet is just not enjoyable. And the "ABC Song" is stuck in my head. Grrrrrrrr.
I am a very transparent person. I have a hard time hiding what I think about something. If I like something, it is very obvious -- and if I dislike something, it is equally obvious. I know that I wear my feelings in plain sight. Knowing this about myself makes me feel bad about days like today. I absolutely know that annoyance registered on my face at school today. Even though no one who I was annoyed at was at fault for anything, I couldn't help how I felt. I worked very, very hard at keeping at least a half-smile or a flat expression. I don't want my students or co-teacher to think that I am upset with them for anything -- it's me, not them! And how would I explain culture shock to someone who has never been anywhere??
One of the most frustrating things about stage two of culture shock is that it completely blindsides me and makes me unreasonably irritated at those who I am supposed to be working with. In my brain, I know that they are not doing anything to annoy me purposefully, yet I am still annoyed -- and that frustrates me further. It can be a vicious cycle of negativity that spirals down endlessly -- I've experienced it before. And not having people who know me -- I mean, really know me -- nearby, I can't vent my frustrations without being taken the wrong way. Getting out of the negative thought-pattern is difficult. I know that when I am in this phase, the things that get me out are physical touch or words of understanding and belonging. And with no close friends or family around, it's hard to find those things. But I actually got them both today.
I went to Eka's house this afternoon to have some conversation with her in English. She wants to spend as much time as she can talking with me so she can better her language capabilities. I didn't really want to walk 35 minutes in the cold rain to her house, but I did anyway. We sat in her kitchen and talked for a while about New Year's, the weather, Istanbul, the news that was on TV, and other random things. Her mother-in-law came in to put out the necessary coffee, candy, and fruit -- she is a very sweet lady, and wanted to know how I was doing. She stood beside me and as she talked through Eka's translating, she put her hand on my shoulder and gave me loving squeeze that spoke volumes. It's amazing how comforting a simple touch is.
Back at Tea's house, I sat in the kitchen with Tea, "our grandmother," and Elene. In the midst of the conversation, cheese making, lesson planning, and dubbed telenovelas, "our grandmother" turned to me and said something. She usually tells me to eat, but this time I caught the words "you" and "family" in her mumbling. I tried to process the rest of what she had said to me, but came up blank. I looked at Tea and asked what grandmother had asked me about my family. Tea said that she hadn't asked me anything -- she had said that I am part of her family. That made me smile a genuine smile, those words of belonging -- and heartfelt ones, at that.
I hope that tomorrow will find me back in stage three -- I am assimilating into the culture here. It is not my own, nor do I want it to be, but I am accepting it as my temporary home. So, even as I cross off the days on my calendar in a subversive count-down to leaving, I am still living here for the present. Accepting my present reality will keep me focused on my goals: teach English, learn Georgian, make a difference.