culture_shockBy Erin D’Amelio

I grew increasingly jealous of my roommate when I walked into my school’s office during my first month here in Budu. Every time I passed through the doors, a package smugly sat upon the mail. And for me? Nothing. Not even a letter.

Everyone knows about culture shock and its trajectory. Usually during the first month you still blindly convince yourself of the ecstasy being abroad gives you, every sight and sound (sometimes rightly) waking up those senses that have been dulled by your normal day-to-day life. But then the rose-colored glasses come off in the second and third months as you get more settled into the foreign world, and suddenly the removal from the comfort of your home begins to wear you down. Our program directors likened the culture shock experience to riding a bicycle along a path. The first part of the path is relatively smooth, but then out of nowhere comes a steep hill that sends you careening down before you are even aware of what’s happening. Eventually the momentum of your ride sends you back up to a calmer plateau, but for a while you find yourself in this pit of uneasiness and longing for the life you knew before stepping on the plane.

I’ve started to fall down the side of this hill. At night I wish to snuggle with my two dogs, Bentley and Mac, as I try to fall asleep, but I can’t. My reaction to my sister’s Facebook posts of her son, my nephew, now almost seven months old, has taken on a bitter, why-am-I-not-there-to-see-this attitude. I hate that I am sweating constantly, and that I can’t understand the language around me, as much as I am trying to learn it. Last week I wrote about getting along well with my students, and even taking certain qualities of Malaysia for granted when I should. While those qualities remain true, they haven’t stopped me from feeling that natural pull towards home. It probably hasn’t helped that I haven’t Skyped with my family in over a week. So it’s easy to guess why that green-eyed monster accompanies me when I hand my roommate her mail, right?

But this week I finally received a letter! Despite only getting to me now after nearly a month en route, this letter, sent to me by my high school friend Patrick, lifted my spirits when I really needed it. There’s something so charming and heartening about a letter, which I think lies solely in the fact that the writer took time out of his or her day to actually compose something for you by hand. In the letter there were cartoons, jokes, and everything that reminds me of the good people that I have in my life. Even though it makes dealing with this culture shock more difficult at times, because you know what you have back home, receiving those reminders from home always ends up doing more good than it does bad. And while I can’t prevent myself from flying down this culture shock hill, at least I can pull out a letter from friend to cheer me up and distract me from the impact.

My name is Erin D’Amelio and I’m going to Malaysia for ten months as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Over the next 10 months I will be submitting regular journal entries of this incredible adventure, documenting my thoughts and experiences. The views and beliefs I will present in these articles are my own; they do not reflect those of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. Below are the articles, in order of publication. Just click on any link and continue the journey with me.
An Unforgettable Journey

How Does One Get a Fulbright, Exactly?
And Then We Wait
Sensory Overload
(Almost) Hitting the Ground Running
Mercurial Days
Language and Tennis