The actual definition of culture shock is:
“the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life or set of attitudes.”
Here is my definition:
“Where the f*ck am I, where is my starbucks? WHY CAN’T I FIND A NORMAL PLUG? WHERE ARE YOU TAKING ME!!”
These are all things I experienced at the ripe age of 18 in Nairobi Kenya. I decided to take some adventure into my life and experience Africa probably before I was ready. I decided to go live on a reserve, in the middle of nowhere, knowing absolutely nobody 2 hours north of Nairobi. Before I left I didn’t expect to have so many needles, however you have to have a vaccine for EVERYTHING. Yellow fever, typhoid, regular flu shot, rabies, the list goes on and on. You won’t be allowed back into Canada or even the US without that yellow fever vaccine. But what they inform to tell you is you can actually die from complications from the yellow fever vaccine. I found that out 2 years after coming home so luckily I’m not dead.
When I arrived in Kenya, it was 11 pm. From my understanding I had been told 2 people from the reserve were going to pick me up and take me to my camp site. Sounded good to me. However that is NOT what happened. Two men I didn’t know, nor did they speak english picked me up and brought me to random hotel and 1 am, where I had no cell service nor did anyone know I was going to be there. The showers did not work properly, nor was there any normal food. I was starving, cold, lost and scared to death. It may sound dramatic, but imagine being by yourself at 18, never travelling alone before other than to Houston Texas to visit your father. I was petrified. I got maybe an hour of sleep that night, when morning came I was more than happy to leave that place. However it was with the same men, not understanding I was going to a grocery store to buy my own groceries (for the first time in my life) and I had no idea where the reserve was that we were going to. The reserve was another 2 hour drive, when we got to the grocery store however, there had been terrorist attacks the week prior and we were searched very thoroughly to ensure we were not a threat. When I reached the reserve and unpacked my things, I came to realize I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, it was a relatively new program and the coordinator was not there for a week. By the time she had arrived I was lucky enough to have befriended the American family that was staying in the same place I was. Those first 3 nights were absolute hell. I felt incredibly lonely, scared, tired, and completely out of my element. It took me 3 weeks out of 4 to come to terms with what was happening. I left early because the stress and emotions took control of me. I lost so much weight from stress, I had an amazing time with the people I met but no travel site, book or any self help planner can prepare you for the effect culture shock brings.
You don’t have to go to a third world country in order to experience culture shock. It can be simply moving to a small, slower paced town from a city like Chicago. The only piece of advice I could ever give from experiencing that is be prepared. Know what you could experience, know the atmosphere, do so much research you feel you could give a 5 day speech on the country. Know the foods, some of the language, TRAVEL WITH SOMEBODY. And worst comes to worst, drink like you’ve never drank before.
I can’t tell you what to pack, what I can tell you is be prepared to be out of your element. Just because a place like Nairobi is known as a big city, does NOT mean it is going to be the metropolis you are used to. Do as much research as you can, learn the prices of everything, understand conversion, unlock your phone in advance to prepare to have a new phone plan because you will not get the first world service that you get in Canada or America.
Just don’t live with your head up your ass thinking everything is the same in every single country because that is the number one problem I have faced. Thinking the world is the same everywhere, no matter where I go I’ve had this expectation that life is all sunshine and f*cking rainbows. However it’s going to turn into a damn thunderstorm in 5 minutes if you aren’t prepared. God bless everything having a GPS and things are much different now even than 4 years ago when I went, just be aware that its not going to be about the instagram picture, and the playing with elephants and lions. I didn’t see either when I was there because each sanctuary is 500 EACH. That is for another post. Travelling is about the overall experience, learning and over coming new challenges, meeting new people, seeing new cultures (again another post) and overall growing as your own person. If I hadn’t gone through what I did I wouldn’t know how to be on my own and not to panic and jump to conclusions as quickly as I did then. It was beyond costly, but I would never regret it in my life because I would not know how to be out of my element and stay calm in the worst situations.
This trip does have a silver lining. I studied giraffes, counted African buffalo, caught a Raptor (bird of prey) with a wildlife biologist, and overall had an amazing time. But those stories are for another time because I am a negative nelly and prefer to give you the useful shit instead of brag about my life.