By Josh Del Pino
Culture Shock will find you when you least expect it. It’s like when you unknowingly bite into a piece of “plain white bread” that you bought from your local ポプラ or Family Mart and you realize it is actually filled with warm mayonnaise, seaweed and tuna. Yep, it’s exactly like that.
You might be thinking “culture shock, shmulture shock! Pulleaasssseee!! I have studied abroad in Japan before and traveled to Argentina, Russia, Vietnam, Portugal and a dozen other countries all by myself and I did just fine. I think I can handle the countryside and pleasant demeanor of Shimanians.” While you may be doing just fine now, I’m here to tell you that all of us experience culture shock at some point or another and when we least expect. And that’s totally natural. I experienced culture shock once when I went into a library wanting to read a book and I suddenly realized, “I can’t read a single book in here.” Here are a few tips and ways to deal with the inevitable moment when you realize you’re not in Kansas (or Australia, Ireland, Russia, etc,) anymore.
1. Talk with someone. Anyone. Just as long as that person is real and not a figment of your imagination (ala Fight Club), then you’re doing just fine. Many of you are scattered and geographically isolated. So if you are craving some conversation, make that effort to meet up with a friend, or perhaps invite friends to your place. Be persistent even if people are busy. If you have Internet, you can have a weekly or daily Skype sessions with a face – preferably a friendly face. And maybe you are just fine stumbling over Japanese words and learning Japanese in your community. During my first two years in Japan, my social network consisted mostly of PTA volleyball mothers. That’s how I rolled. I saw other JETs nearby and sometimes went to the cities of Izumo and Matsue, but I was content in my community. We all have different needs and expectations.
2. Exercise! I have been told by the all knowing Internet and the movie Legally Blonde that exercise can actually help release endorphins and reduce the negative effects of stress in the body. You can start your own sport like ultimate taser frisbee, or maybe start preparing for a marathon. Or, if you want to leave the training wheels on, you can bike or walk to work instead of driving to work. You can try getting a big gym ball and use that as a chair and just roll around on it. For those interested, I can share with you my personal prison routine workout. Anything to get that blood moving and to ward off Culture Shock Syndrome should do the job!
3. Laugh! Lol. Lmao. Haha. ハハ。笑。When you laugh, special chemicals are released similar to the magical sparkly glitter dust that some U.S. presidential candidates are blessed with. In all seriousness, laughing makes you happy. It’s that simple. Even smiling changes your outlook and the outlook of others around you. So turn on your favorite funny show like the nightly news or read that hilarious author like Stephen King! Yes, laughing will carry you over the valley of darkness and despair. Speaking of despair, I recommend despair.com for a good laugh.
4. Write. These days it seems like everyone is a writer. Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Blogger, Write a book in a month thingy, bathroom stalls. And all of these are classy venues! I say join the bandwagon and write to express yourself. Or if you are old school or just old, you can pick up a pen and write in a journal. It can be cathartic to express what you are feeling even if you never share it with others. You can write down the highlight of your day. Or you can start your dissertation on the relationship between Japanese institutions, socialization and the cultural significance of あいさつ or “greetings” in rural Japan. I used to write and mail letters every week. I knew the people at the post office and they knew me quite well. If I ever get my act together, I could write a mediocre book and have a generic jaw-dropping after school-special program based on my letters and journals. And so can you!
5. Do something fun everyday. That’s right! You don’t have to suffer through culture shock if it strikes you like Mike Tyson’s upper cut. If you are a gamer, get your game on. If you like sports, ties those laces up. If you like taking photos, click click click away. If you like music, get your headphones on. If you like to travel, then pack light and catch that flight, train, or bus. If you like the arts, sip your cappuccino and silently judge that piece of crap like the art critic you aspire to be. Get busy living or get busy dying! That’s damn right!