So I just came back from Sao Paulo a city in Brazil, where I attended an international human rights colloquium organised by a Non-governmental organisation called Conectas. This programme has been ongoing for over 13 years now and this is the 13th colloquium since it started. It had in attendance, human rights activists from all over the world and it was a very rich experience for me. Read more about the event and Conectas here.
Well my trip to Brazil brought another topic of discussion for my blog today: Culture shock! I am sure most of us who have travelled to one part of the world or another, different from where we have lived all our lives, have experienced one form of culture shock or another. According to Wikipedia (which by the way I have been told by my professors is not the most reliable place to quote from… oh well I am lazy today!), “Culture shock is the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply travel to another type of life.”
It is said that culture shock consists of four distinct phases, they are: the honeymoon phase, negotiation phase, adjustment phase and the mastery phase.
I still remember vividly my first time in the United States a few years ago – the first month I spent had me oohing and ahhhing at how beautiful and wonderful everywhere I went was. Sometimes it felt like I was in the movies that I watched. As a matter of fact, the street I lived on reminded me of Wisteria Lane of my favourite TV show Desperate Housewives. I remember I playfully pointed out Gabby’s, Susan’s, Lynette’s and Bree’s houses (apologies to those of you who did not watch the show), as I walked to and from school everyday. I loved the buildings; the fact that everything worked well- electricity, water, and roads, Internet was super fast, customer service and social services were great etc. It was just amazing to me that I was in a country like that and I walked around with a smile on my face all the time. I derived a lot of pleasure in discovering new things, people and places. It was absolute joy for me. In fact I found it interesting that their lunch most of the time comprised of cold sandwich, which I happily munched on even though I was not used to eating such food. Meanwhile in Nigeria I had hot food in the mornings, afternoons and at night. That was my honeymoon phase. Then after about 2 months in the US, I started getting tired of it all, in fact I hated it; I so badly wanted to come home! I missed my family to start with, then the food- I couldn’t stand eating cold sandwich for lunch anymore, I longed for hot-pounded yam and egusi soup, the scents of my country, the way we talk- I wanted to speak in my real Nigerian accent instead of changing my accent a bit in order to be understood, I wanted to say “Toilet” instead of “Bathroom/Washroom”. Sometimes I just lay under my duvet and cried for home! I was angry too because I started seeing that life was not perfect in the US after all. That was my negotiation phase. Then another few months passed and I found out that I was adjusting to life in the US, I knew more places to buy stuff that I needed, understood the life, the weather and people more and even came to the realization that I could actually live there if I wanted to. That was my adjustment phase. However I never got to the mastery phase because my programme ended and I had to pack my bags and say goodbye to the US. I have to say at this point that I am grateful to God for my wonderful school, the University of Notre Dame and the Center for Civil and Human Rights which had very helpful staff and a family oriented community, which made sure our stay in the US was mostly wonderful. In general however, Americans are very warm and friendly people, I know I can not say the same about the British.
My stay in the Gambia was quite similar to that of the US, but it was not as intense because the Gambia is an African country and I had lots of people from Nigeria who lived in the Gambia and helped me to adjust to living there. We are also all black :D, so there was no distinction or contrast of our colour at all, therefore not as shocking for me, unlike in the US where I saw lots and lots of white people around me all the time! Gambians were very friendly, accepting and nice to foreigners and I stayed for much longer in the country, so adjusting and mastering the place was a piece of cake for me.
In Sao Paulo, during the colloquium while different people made interventions and presentations, what struck me was the fact that there were many complaints of serious racial discrimination against the blacks in the country. There were complaints about the rights of black Brazilians, as citizens not being recognised – they were not given access to higher education like the whites, they were profiled as criminals, thereby ensuring that their prisons were filled with mostly black people, they could not get good jobs based on the colour of their skin and so many other complaints. I felt bad and shocked that a country like Brazil would still have racial discrimination as an issue because I remember the famous Brazilian footballer Pele is black, so I somehow expected that they would be treated as kings, this is unfortunately not so. There were very few blacks in the area where our hotel was and whenever I walked down the street or even to a supermarket close to the hotel, I discovered that my colleagues and I from Africa were the only blacks in those areas. I actually noticed that while I was there, I was sometimes looked at in a weird way when I went to some white dominated places, that is until I spoke the English language, which of course meant I was a foreigner, and then they become nicer and more open to help me. My stay in Sao Paulo made me appreciate more where I come from, even though we have so many problems in Africa, I can move around as I wished, I saw blacks just like me wherever I went, without being stared at or treated differently. Racial discrimination is still a very present problem in several parts of the world and we should continue to speak against it because we are all the same human beings before God, regardless of the colour of our skin.
Moving on, what about the foods of different countries and cultures? Were you shocked by the food people from other cultures eat? For me I can say I have seen different foods- the good, the bad and the ewwww. From eating Benechin, the Gambian rice delicacy communally, to eating raw fish in some European countries, to not eating any beef at all in India, the experiences are very many and varied where food is concerned. I love food and I believe I can eat anything.
These are a just few experiences I have had during my trips. There are lots more because I have been to different countries for long and short visits and had different wonderful experiences. Luckily, I have not had any really nasty experience in the countries I have been to.
So tell me, what was your experience like when you visited some countries for the first time? What fascinated or shocked you? Were you treated well or not? What about their way of dressing in these countries, did you find it odd or not? In large countries like Nigeria, culture shock can happen within the boundaries of the country without having to go outside, for example, someone from the north who travels to the south and vice versa. The cultures are different in these two parts of the country and could also elicit some form of shock just like it may when you are out of the country. I would like to know your own experiences.
Have a wonderful week peeps.