The third stage of culture shock


The concept of culture shock was introduced me in the first week of FIP -- Freshman International Pre-orientation when I first came here. Firstly, it hit me as a bit of a misnomer, since I didn't really think there was all that much difference between westernized countries' cultures so I thought it wasn't really something I would have to deal with much. However, after the talk, it made me a wonder a bit. What stage was I in at that time? However, I quickly pushed these thoughts to the back of my head because they weren't relevant in the busy schedule of every day life here.

Now, as I enter into my second month here, I feel the concept has some new meaning for me. I'm not sure if I have grown much wiser in the little time I have spent here, but it certainly feels like it has gone by really quickly. And yet, I am starting to feel at home. It occurred to me this morning that perhaps I am entering into the third stage of culture shock, finally: integration and acceptance into a new home.

Culture shock is the concept of integration into a new environment; it need not be vastly different from the place you come from, I realise now, but it still takes some time to adjust to new surroundings. Apparently there are supposed to be 5 main stages: Honeymoon, disintegration, integration, re-entry shock and re-integration.

Honeymoon describes the initial feelings of excitement when first arriving in a new place. I feel like I didn't experience much of this, partially because I was on edge at the time and emotional from other things happening in my life, but I did feel a certain kind of nervous anxiety vibrating inside my heart as my cousin drove us past MIT and down Mass Ave that day, towards the red brick of my new home for the next four years. I couldn't help thinking back to the first time I visited, 3 years ago now, and what I had been like then. Completely green, no intentions, no ideas, no experience. Stepping into the yard on that first day incited strange feelings. It was like re-entering a place I had been before, but as a different person, 3 years older and 'wiser' and yet just as clueless. I hadn't thought that I would ever revisit when I first came here.

Disintegration describes the time of trying to get used to the new environment, usually unpleasant and can come with feelings of depression and homesickness. I did get this a little during my first one or two weeks here. It's actually been 5 weeks since I arrived here, which puts things in perspective. These feelings died down with time and as I met more people I could connect with. To be perfectly honest though, meeting new people gets very tiring. It is exhausting to have to put with so much small talk from day to day, in addition to learning ten or twenty new names and faces every day, It's even harder when you have nobody to have a real conversation with. Fortunately, I think I met a few people here who I could do that with. And, I took the time to chat with friends back home so that I wouldn't go crazy. But, it made me miss home a lot more when I saw them.

I am not quite sure if I am still in the above stage right now, but it's definitely improved a lot since then. I realized this morning that perhaps I had already begun to transition into the third stage of integration. I was looking at my own Facebook page actually, specifically at the "Currently living in Cambridge, Massachusetts" line. It suddenly hit me that I am in America. I'm not sure where I thought I was before now, because I knew for sure that I wasn't in New Zealand, but maybe my brain had put itself in a position of perpetual transition before now. I realised finally that I am actually here, in the Northern Hemisphere, in Massachusetts. Might not seem like that revolutionary of a realization but for me it was literally mind-blowing. Plus, the thought that I've been here for a month! How crazy is that. This place is starting to feel like home as well. Actually my FIP leaders talked about how quickly people adapt to new situations, and eventually Harvard feels like home, and you don't want to leave anymore.

It's actually a scary thought. When I came here I was looking forward to going home again after 4 months. And yet, there are only 3 months left now, and I honestly have to say that I can't imagine leaving. Settling into a routine made me forget about that life I previously had. What mattered to me now was the daily progressions of action and thought right here in front of me. Home is of course still important to me; when I skype with friends back home I miss them dearly. And yet, not as much as when I first arrived. Another thing my FIP leader talked about back then was that "Harvard changes people". At that time a small part of me knew he was right, but for some reason the bigger part of my consciousness tried to refute it. "I'll never change," I thought, "I don't want to change. I'll never forget about home and the people there. Nothing here would take that away from me." And honestly, now I'm not sure which way to think. Because on one hand, life is different in these two worlds, but they are both part of me now. Yet on the other hand, should I prioritize my past a bit more? I can't possibly forget about home that easily.

Yet I am scared about the 4th stage of culture shock: re-entry shock. I don't know what to expect when I go home again. "Life will be different when you go home. You won't be able to tell exactly what has changed, but it will be different. Harvard changes people, or people back home will have changed without your presence." In some ways I wish this weren't true, but of course life will be different. I'm not sure if I'm still denying it to myself, but I remember when Lucee came back for the first time it was a little bit different. Or even when Jamie, Yunbin and David came back, or even seeing Chen again in Taiwan at the beginning of the year. It was like old times, but there was some small part of us that had changed. I don't know if we became closer or more distant in their absence, but life was not quite the same after our separation. I suppose it might not necessarily be a good or bad thing, just a phenomenon that happens. I wonder how much re-entry shock I will experience. How Americanized can I become in 4 months? Hahahaaha...

I guess it's just a time in my life where I'm very uncertain about the future and the opportunities to pick up here are limitless to the point where you can imagine many amazing scenarios for your life to become yet you cannot pick any of them. What do I love? What do I value? What am I trying to achieve here, why am I here in the first place? These are questions I must answer. For now though, it seems like I am floating around every day following a superficial routine I have created for myself to keep a facade of progress, yet in the end I am just procrastiwaiting for something to change, for the future and its possibilities to come and slap me in the face. You'd think I'd know by now that if you want something, you have to go and get it yourself. ...Actually that's something I did know, but such a method has no meaning if I have no knowledge of what I want, right?

These are the circular thoughts of someone who needs to sleep now. But actually I am not that sad, I apologize if I come off as privately wistful in this blog post. I am actually quite content with life here, I just wonder at times where it is leading. But I think it is good that at least I am starting to be able to call this place Home.

PS. On a semi-sidenote, I started listening to some Blackmill, which I am enjoying very much. A lot of his songs come up on the Ratatat pandora channel, which is where I learned about him from, so if you're into that kinda style of music/soft dubstep/trance electronica you should check his stuff out :)

My Incomprehensive Harvard Experience


Sup guys, this is a somewhat incomprehensive update on my whereabouts and wellbeing so that I don't have to repeat myself over and over to people and I'll forget who I've told what haha. So, PUBLIC BROADCAST! :D

Anyway my time here has been really good so far. I was missing home quite a bit when I arrived, but it's a lot better now that I've settled into my new room and classes have kind of started and I've met some people I get along with well. Just a little bit less lonely :) I did laundry for the first time by myself yesterday! Aren't you proud? Haha last week my parents were still here so my mum was pretty much overbearingly taking over doing everything...

Canaday F, aka my entryway! :D These are the people I live with haha.

aaand, here's my room! :D

Haha other than that, the food here is surprisingly good for mass produced stuff. People complain about it but I don't think it's bad considering they cater for 1700 odd people. Maybe I'm just not picky / have no culinary taste whatsoever (if you're wondering why I have so many pictures of food, it's because my parents want me to send them a picture of every meal I have so here are some of them hahaha. This is mostly at Annenberg, the freshmen dining hall):


Also I'm still typing this on my old as laptop because when the one I ordered arrived, it was broken ): The bottom of the chassis was deformed and the screen was cracked and they only just picked it up 2 days ago for replacement so HOPEFULLY that'll come soon so I'm no longer stuck with this piece of crap that lasts like 15 minutes so I can't actually take it to any lectures rendering its laptop-ness completely redundant...

I'm pretty sad this year that I missed the first day of Spring in New Zealand. I tend to blog on that day every year and I couldn't this year because... it wasn't Spring ): there were no baby calves and lambs jumping around here, no first blossom, no warming of the weather... instead all I had to remind me of a change of season was a slight chill and some drizzle. But that's ok. Life changes, I suppose. I wonder what the turn of Spring in March here will look like.

In terms of classes, they just started two days ago but it's shopping week at the moment, which means none of our classes are finalized so we can go into any class we want to 'shop' it and see if we want to take it. So far I've gone into an Art History class on American art and Modernity between 1865 and 1965, a Science and Cooking class where they gave us this plant extract stuff that binds to your sweetness receptors on your tongue so that you can't taste anything sweet for a short period of time and it made sugar taste like sand and, IMO made cookies taste nicer cos you can actually taste the bitterness of the chocolate but other people beg to differ..., and a maths class that I wanted to take but I don't have enough slots this semester so I'll probably take in the Spring, an Ethical Reasoning class (Justice by Michael Sandel, perhaps one of the most famous here, Jono recommended it to me before I even came here hahaha), EC10 (Introduction to Economics), CS50 (the most famous compsci paper here, looks awesome, I can't wait to start this course like actually -- even though it will probably eat up most of my time), and my freshman seminar (I got Just Friends: I don't love you like that), which I already have 40 pages of reading plus a response paper for due in a week. But it's really flexible here and the classes are really interesting so yay Harvard :) But weirdly I still don't feel like classes have started, and I felt much more hard-working back at AU. Maybe because I live on campus now so it just feels like I'm bumming around alllll the time. It's weird.
[I apologise for my atrocious grammar in this above paragraph but I really cannot be bothered making it fluent in a literary sense since this is my blog and I do what I want so go away Yunbin :)]

EDIT: actually I wrote this a few days ago, I've pretty much finalized my classes now, I'm taking CS50, EC10, C&B30 (History of Photography) and Just Friends. Plus I'm probably going to end up auditing Science & Cooking just cos it's so darn cool. I mean just look at these liquid nitrogen marshmallows. No pun intended.

There have been heaps of random events during orientation as well -- there was intramural house sports, and then convocation (which is like the opposite of graduation, where you dress fancy and people give speeches and a ceremony and stuff). There was an activities fair two days ago as well, where all the extracurricular groups had a stall and gave away free stuff :D I'm getting spammed by groups that I signed up for to get free stuff from now though hahah.

Woodbridge international society tshirt ;) 

In terms of social life, there are heaps of parties going on all the time. It's pretty amazing. Went to a few and have seen a few people getting taken away by UHS from passing out after drinking, probably not a pleasant experience but I haven't drank since I got here. Other than that there are also lots of performances going on, and everyone kinda does their own thing. Went to an AAA (Asian American Association) mixer where it was too hot to be classy despite the dress code, an A Cappella performance last night, a dance group performance last week that I can remember off the top of my head...

You can't tell from the photo, but we're all sweating profusely.

Hmmm, apart from playing a lot of card games and hanging out in common rooms til the early AM during orientation, there's nothing much else I can think of to talk about regarding my current life.* Classes are soon to properly start, and I already have a CS project and a reading and response paper to write to Plato's The Symposium, so I shall go and sparknotes the hell out of it now :) Hope you're all doing well where ever you are, and I'd love to catch up sometime so just chuck me a message and I'll reply when I can haha @_@

*EDIT: actually I just remembered, one night we went to the science center at 12am in the morning to learn the gangnam style dance using the apple store glass doors as our mirror. Good times... but maybe that's a story for another day hahaha.