Sunday, May 6, 2012

Reflecting on Transition Shock

AJ Vander Vos, a college-four seminarian from the Diocese of Helena, has submitted this reflection from the course Ministry in a Multicultural Church, which is taught this semester by Ms. Kathy Akiyama.

A Reflection about Transition Shock: Putting Culture Shock in Perspective - by AJ Vander Vos

In Transition Shock: Putting Culture Shock in Perspective, Janet Bennett constructed some brilliant thoughts based on what others have said concerning shock.  She borrowed some ideas of different types of shock from other writers and placed them all "under the general category transition shock" (215).  In my reflection I wish to follow her format of discussing symptoms, responses, stages, resolutions, and potentials and then relate my personal experience in each of these sections.  My experience of transition shock came in the form of culture shock when I traveled to Mexico for five weeks.

Concerning symptoms, Bennett writes that the symptoms of transition shock vary from person to person.  She gave a number of examples such as fear of personal harm, theft, anxiety, irritability, and being homesick.  When I first arrived in the airport at Guadalajara until the end of the first week in Mexico I experienced many of the symptoms mentioned above.

I had a miscommunication with my friend Dario who was going to pick me up from the airport.  I arrived at two in the afternoon expecting him to either be waiting for me or least pick me up shortly after arriving. I was a little nervous in the new environment, but the thought of seeing my friend whom I was familiar with comforted me.  I stepped off the plane and waited near the main door for Dario.  After an hour of waiting, I was a little more anxious since I didn't see Dario, but I figured he must have just been running late.  So I decided to eat lunch and keep an eye on the door in the meantime.

Two hours went by and I started to become even more uneasy since there was still no sign of my friend.  I began walking around the airport to see if maybe he came in a different door and was waiting for me there.  I could not find him anywhere but I kept walking, and in retrospect, I think walking around gave me some comfort in this new world of uneasiness which I was experiencing.  Around 10 o'clock in the evening I finally got a hold of Dario on the phone.  He said he had been working and would not get off until around 11:30 p.m. and would pick me up after work.  Dario finally arrived at 12:30 in the morning and most of my anxiety was dispelled.

As a response to transition shock Bennett claims that "cognitive inconsistency" is almost a universal experience.  Cognitive inconsistency occurs when one receives new information and values which challenges his or her current "worldview."  The contradiction between the old worldview and the new information causes tension within the individual.  Bennett uses Clyde Sergeant's model to talk about response to transition shock in four stages: fight, flight, filter, and flex.

I feel like I had a sense of the "fight" stage when I arrived at Dario's apartment and I met his roommates.  When I got there, I set my bags down but kept my computer in its case on my shoulder despite their invitation to set it down and unload my burden.  I politely refused their hospitality because I  was scared that my computer might get stolen.  Looking back, I know now that my belongings were safe with them and I am embarrassed at my refusal to accept their hospitality.

Fight mode quickly shifted into flight mode, and I was more comfortable staying inside his apartment than facing the outside world.  Dario's apartment door did not have a door handle, only a number of locks.  So during the day, when he and his roommates were out working, I had the choice of staying in or staying out.  I chose to be locked in, and in this sense I was "flying" from the unknown world outside the metal doors.

Next in Sergeant's model is the filter phase.  I inevitably had to face the streets of Mexico and absorb all the new sites, sounds, smells, and feelings of the Mexican culture and in a sense "filter" these new elements into my worldview.  As I spent more time exploring the city of Guadalajara, first with my friend and later by myself, I became more familiar with the culture and the people.  I was able to enter the last stage (flux) when I no longer felt that my old worldview was threatened by some dark force but that this new culture gave me another worldview which broadened my horizons and helped me understand that this new culture was not bad, it was just different.

Bennett's final point about potentials speaks about how experiences of transition shock can help us grow and develop as individuals.  Through my immersion experience in Mexico, I had the unique opportunity to face the challenges of being in a foreign culture, to assimilate and begin to understand the challenges that came from differences between my old culture and the new one, and finally to come home with not only a better understanding of Mexico and the Hispanic culture but also a love for its people.

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