Monday, October 11, 2004

Stage Three: Increasing Irritation Stage

When the study abroad office held a big meeting last quarter to prepare all of the students going abroad for the following year, I remember sort of admiring them for making a potentially very dull meeting only somewhat dull. What most piqued my interest during this meeting however was not the provisions on how to get requirements for your abroad classes back at Northwestern, nor was it the speech made by the girl who used her abroad experience to get a fellowship (yawwwn), rather, it was this chart that they presented entitled "The Common Stages of Cultural Adjustment."

The introduction on the Common Stages of Cultural Adjustment starts, "studies have shown that when people move to a foreign country, they generally experience a series of emotional stages that fall into a well documented pattern." Then it lists six stages: 1. Pre-departure stage, 2. Honeymoon/Spectator Stage, 3. Increasing Irritation Stage-"Culture Shock!" (cute, eh?) 4. Adaptation Stage 5. Return Anxiety Stage 6. Biculturalism Stage. I found these psychological stages and their subsequent descriptions pretty interesting and sort of humorous. When I got to Paris this fall, I recalled the Common Stages of Cultural Adjustment when I started to miss something about the states and wondered whether my knowledge of these stages would make them a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Anyway, I think I am beginning to see the viability of this chart. For instance, right now I have been experiencing symptoms of Stage Three, the "Culture Shock!" stage: disenchantment, hostility, irriation. Just like the hypothetical events that accompany this stage suggest, "lots of things seem to be going wrong."

For instance, today I went to the library to try to check out a couple of books for my research paper. I left less one book than I had come with. How does this happen when one goes in with the intention of borrowing two additional books? Well, apparently, I had a book overdue, because books at the Sciences Po library are only allowed to be checked out for one week (thus, my book was six days overdue). My habit of checking out books for three weeks and then three weeks more seemed positively luxurious in comparison. I don't think I have a library fine, but the librarian informed me that he would (a) have to take back my book (b) that I can't check it out for a week or until Friday (I don't know which!) and (c) the use of my library card is suspended for another week. Now if that isn't a by the book example of the "Events" aspect to Stage 3, I don't know what is!

Hmm, let's look at emotional responses now, since I am on a roll: "discouragement"--well I would say this library thing was pretty discouraging, but also, today I had all sorts of time after my trip to the library. My plan was actually to go to the American Library in Paris to see if I could find my books there, until I remember that it's closed on Mondays, thus, discouragement. I toyed with the idea of going to a new park or some other site like the Statue of Liberty, which always cheers me up; nah, I thought, it's too cold, and do I really feel like seeing another site?

And then there's behavioral responses. I'm doing pretty well with the "searching for security in familar activities." For instance, today I decided that I want to start making my lunch before school so I don't have to buy it everday from the cafeteria. I looked specifically for turkey, wonderful turkey. Why hadn't the French caught on to this heart healthy, and I would say tastier alternative to ham? Why is everything jambon, or saucisson, or pate? Sure, all of those are nice, on occasion, but everyday? I also got wheat bread made by a brand called "Harry's" which advertises it's "American bread." In all fairness to myself though, I did buy chocolate covered biscuits, and as I looked up and down the cookie aisle, I thought to myself, wow, the French do have better cookies than we do.

I have to point out one more amusing thing from the description of Stage Three. Their example of the verbal response includes this: "This place sucks! I hate it here. This place and these people are stupid. To make matters worse, my friends at home say the Northwestern football team is doing great and the weather in Evanston is amazing" [emphasis added]. While I think the first part is a bit exaggerated, the second part is true!! It is true! This year, NU has beat both Ohio State and Indiana University, and the weather has supposedly been sunny and in the 70s and 60s for awhile. (Here it's been mostly cloudy and in the low 50s, though I can never find an accurate weather report online). So even though I've never been that into football, so I can't say that would be my first homesick sentiment, I still find it funny that the example has proven true.

Hopefully Stage 4, the Adaptation Stage, is on its way...

No comments: