Saturday, June 19, 2010

One Day at a Time

Gradual Adjustment

Crisis passes and the visitor begins to understand more of the customs and subtle cultural clues. Language skills increase. Humor returns. The culture seems more familiar and the visitor feels more comfortable and less isolated in it.

There are glimmers of hope. Culture shock absolutely correlates to emotional stress in daily life. On good days, I love Amman. On bad days, I hate it. I don't see myself as a "visitor" anymore. I live here. I don't really have a home to go back to, and I've invested a lot of time and money into my newest (third) flat. I have found supportive female spaces and look to all the strong women (expat AND local) for inspiration. I appreciate all the men in my life that show me how wrong stereotypes can be. My Arabic skills are slowly improving. I walk around my neighborhood and try to imagine how it will look through the wide eyes of my family members who are coming in a week and have never been to the Middle East. I have my grocer, my tailor, my hairdresser, my shuwarma guy, my regular server at my regular restaurant. I have my favorite street cat, my favorite building, my favorite flowers, my favorite city views.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bring on the Drama…

Culture Shock

Focus shifts to differences that suddenly seem to be everywhere and are blown out of proportion. Sense of humor replaced by irritations, hostility, anxiety, disorientation, and vulnerability. Symptoms of culture shock may include the following: excessive amounts of sleep, compulsive eating and/or drinking, exaggerated cleanliness, physical ailments, marital/familial problems, stereotyping, chauvinism, fits of weeping, homesickness, boredom.

Culture shock bashed me over the head, threw me against a wall and left me for dead the moment I returned from Christmas vacation. After being in the U.S. for ten days, I had missed my friends and life in Amman and was looking forward to returning for a New Year's Eve celebration. Flight complications, lost luggage, arriving to an empty house, a fizzled party and a detached significant other all sent me into a tailspin. A small disagreement between my boyfriend and I escalated into an break-up, I became confrontational at school about the fact that I had yet to receive my residency and work permit, and I felt extremely homesick for everything American.

My friends supported me fantastically through the break-up by listening to my relentless psycho-analysis as I sucked on argileh hoses and stared at my coffee. My jetlag became torture and I barely slept for two weeks. I was never hungry. I got three ear infections in two months. I stayed in my room unless my friends dragged me out to go to a party or a bar. And when I did venture out, I realized how awful the lurid stares from the men on the streets really were. The thought of abandoning ship that had flashed in my mind when I first arrived in Amman was flickering again.

This stage comes and goes and correlates strongly to the emotional effects of other events in my life. The support of my friends during the break-up gave me a strong sense of kinship and belonging that I have treasured ever since. And I realized that my job was fulfilling, despite the bureaucratic nightmares and lack of organization, and that with or without a boyfriend, I wanted to stay. Since hearts know no logic, he and I soon reunited and I am continuously overwhelmed by the support and stability that exist now between us.

Yet despite deep friendships and a wonderful partner, I have become a royal brat in many ways. The hassling, whistles, lewd comments and lack of respect from so many men on a regular basis have pushed me over the edge. I yell back, I refuse to step aside and I gripe about it to anyone who will listen. This is the one place I am just so stuck. Well, actually, two other negativity-traps include the something-for-nothing mentality and the let-me-see-how-much-I-can-screw-the-foreigner game, which also have twisted me into an obstinate, finger-wagging, very angry bitch.

I've always considered myself open-minded and easy-going, and for the first five months I honestly was. But I have developed a very stubborn and angry alter-ego. Sometimes it's good and sometimes it's bad. In the U.S. I never used to complain about customer service or demand respect when people were taking advantage of me. Now this is a regular occurrence. Good for me. But I also expect the worse from men I don't know and yell aggressively when I feel someone has wronged me. Shame on me. I am stuck in stereotypes and it's intellectually and personally maddening. That is the antithesis of who I strive to be.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Highs and Lows of Living Abroad

I've read from several sources, including my graduate school textbooks, about the stages of culture shock that someone living abroad will pass through. Yet no matter how much you read up on something, when you're entirely in the moment, textbooks don't mean diddly. Having lived in Amman for over ten months now (wow!), let me explain what this "culture shock" means in my daily life.

I've listed the stages below and will pace out my commentary since I have a lot to say!

Stages of Culture Shock
Initial Euphoria
Culture Shock
Gradual Adjustment

Initial Euphoria...yippeeee

Excitement, high (perhaps too high) expectations and energy, positive mindset. Everything new is intriguing. Focus is on similarities between home culture and new culture.

Well, my airport debacle upon arrival quickly squashed any initial euphoria and I was pretty cranky and skeptical the first few days. As I began making friends and venturing out into the city on my own, however, I did notice that I was a much friendlier and more outgoing version of myself than I had been in DC. I had a great attitude about my new school and kept thinking how much better it was than teaching in the U.S. Less students, more freedom with the curriculum and tons of planning time. I even thought two hour staff meetings entirely in Arabic were a good way to force me to learn the language.

I moved flats and entered a new social circle in the fall, so I think my euphoria was prolonged. Also, I began a romantic relationship that made each day an exciting adventure and distracted me from the more challenging parts of my life. Heck, Ramadan even seemed romantic at the time!