Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Culture Shock

     The first leg of my journey spanned 117 days and took me from Strawberry to Heber, Arizona, a distance of about 60 or 70 miles. Maya and I stuck mostly to the back trails during this time. The rough cinders of the forest roads were too tough on the pads of her paws.
Even when we did pass through the more populated lake areas we had little contact with others. We were illegally residing in the forest at this time and there were the felony warrants out of Indiana to consider. It seemed best to avoid scrutiny.
      At the end of the 117 day trip, I returned to town for a couple weeks to visit a friend and store the journals I had amassed. I was unprepared for what I found there. The months of silence seemed to have built up to a point where I craved human interaction. I’m normally a talkative person, but when I got back to town I talked to anyone and everyone who listened. I caught myself waving at people I passed on the street an activity which drew a lot of looks, (not all friendly). Friendliness was an ordinary behavior among the pines, but not so ordinary in a metropolitan area.
      Most of all I was blown away by all the perceptual stimulation provided by the city. This was more than the amazement I imagine a person from the country must feel when surrounded by the hustle and bustle. I was experiencing a form of Culture Shock, a term I had read about in a book I purchased in a garage sale in the seventies. The author defined Culture Shock as “The anxiety that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of intercourse”. In short, I was kind of freaking out. 
     I couldn't stop just staring around me at all the activity, noise, and lights of the city. The form of culture shock I experienced is known as re-entry shock or reverse culture shock, a common occurrence among students returning from studying abroad. One student studied by Jerginson defined it as “what has always been normal, suddenly seemed strange”.
     For me it was uncomfortable, even almost frightening. Part of me wanted to hide indoors, while another part wanted to walk the streets in an attempt to understand these strange feelings I was having. It was a strange sensation. I equated it with the way one must feel when released from prison or returning from war, and I had only been “out there” for three and a half months!
     I knew there were psychological elements of survival to consider, I just wasn’t aware how serious they could be in such a short time. When I returned to the forest I did so with a different plan. An article published by the Arizona State University Department of Anthropology stated:

Awareness of the nature of cultural shock and the typical reactions
fosters constructive intervention by providing the basis for recognizing
one’s own ongoing cultural shock experiences and for reframing the
situations with adaptive responses and problem-solving strategies.
(Winkleman, 1994, p. 121).

     I would spend more time in campgrounds, where I could find human company and
take more frequent side trips into nearby communities. These efforts paid off. Every
couple months I would visit friends in one town or another, and even though I
experienced periods of adjustment, I was never again broadsided by the intense anxieties
that accompanied my first return to civilization.

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