I remember the anticipation when I was about to land in a country I had only read about in scarce articles and many others in my country would talk about this faraway place called America. As the wheels touched down on the tarmac I could feel my heart beating in my chest and my hands start to perspire, I had finally arrived.
? Shifting from one way of lifestyle to another can be extremely dramatic, and unquestionably a strenuous event. Transitioning from all the unusual recognizable features in your own existence to different cultural stimuli which have limited or no significance to you will invariably result in a culture shock. Culture shock are concepts that I’ve never exposed to before or realized the substance of it until I was moving to the United States. But to further explain what follows I’ll have to give you a scant history of my upbringing.
Belarus is a landlocked country located in eastern Europe. Its government is a Unitary Dominant Party Presidential Republic. After decades of dominance by the Soviet Union, the parliament of the republic proclaimed the sovereignty of Belarus in 1990, during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Belarus declared independence on 25 August 1991. Ever since, Belarus has been ruled by Alexander Lukashenko, known as Eastern Europe last dictator. The village I grew up in was small with limited infrastructure, constant directives by authorities, and inadequate food resources, just to name a few.
However, when I landed in the United States and asked to show my credentials, I was greeted by what seemed at the time, a legion of uniformed guardians known as “Homeland Security”. I was escorted to a private room where all my luggage and person was examined and I was interrogated for nearly six hours. At the conclusion of my experience with these authorities, it was explained to me, because I only had a one-way ticket (I didn’t know how long I would be staying in the United States at the time) just a few months prior to my arrival on April 15, 2013, two brothers from the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic had detonated two explosives at the Boston Marathon and security was heightened because of it. I was then let go to explore a new part of my life and back to my culture shock and the individuals and situations that astonished me when I first landed in America.
One of the initial items I saw about is Americans are courteous, most of the time, they will offer a seat to someone, remain patient in a line, explain why they were late for an appointment or for unintentionally bumping into you. Proportionally they don’t scream, they don’t yell and they don’t gesticulate. Even when they are rude or they disagree, they will skillfully express their messages in a truly thoughtful way. For me, it’s yet a particularly refreshing quality to hear individuals respond, “thank you or you are welcome.”
Americans also have great smiles on their faces, initially I felt they smile because they are fortunate and why wouldn’t they be, they live in a great place with ample opportunities and related to where I came from they lived in Heaven. But suddenly I understood they don’t smile merely when they are happy, they smile as a way of non-verbal communication It took me a period to understand that a smile from an American has little to do with emotion but much to do with being courteous. It’s the American practice of calmly approaching a newcomer in an office, in line in a store, or on a bus. Many people abroad denounce the American smile because it’s ‘fraudulent’ and ‘it means nothing,’ but from where I come from, where you might see a smile every other Tuesday, I’ll accept the American smile any day.
?Some other cultural characteristics I noted in American people as opposed to my culture is informality. People here address each other by first names no matter what the age or gender of the recipient. In Belarus, elders and women are regularly acknowledged with their proper surnames. Another difference is Americans are extremely reserved when it comes to their privacy and personal space. Americans don’t appreciate questions about finances or any medical conditions they may have, their age or what they might weigh. These, and more like it, are line one shouldn’t cross with people who live here.
Along with the facts I spoke of, I was amazed by the food and other stores lining just about every street in every neighborhood. The wealth of various foods stocking the shelves in your stores and the reasonable prices they are marked at is amazing. Where I lived before I arrived here, a chicken can cost upwards of twelve dollars and higher and is one reason people regularly live on potatoes they grow in their own plots of land.
Finally, the most complex piece of culture shock I had to address was the language. I have taken many ESL classes here at Gateway and other places of higher learning, and it is inconceivable to me to figure out how the same words can have two different meanings (witch, which, toe and tow) Here is my quandary, once I have seemingly understood the concept of where to articulate all the syllables, vowels, homonyms, synonyms, along with punctuation, now I am struck by social media with its version of the English language. Lastly, is the English language spoken in different neighborhoods where street language known as Ebonics is spoken among mostly black youths.
Having been here for roughly five years, my emotions of culture shock has diminished quite a bit to the extent it is seldom recognized. I seem to have moved through a metamorphosis and come to accept the American lifestyle. However, I do find myself at times critiquing some specific cultural differences between myself and others who were born here, and when I visit my previous community, I am prepared to fall right back in stride with my traditional ways and manners.