Transitions: Finding Self and Christ in New Situations
by Dean Marshall
Most people have experienced at one point or another a transition shock, or more specifically, culture shock. The transition to a new home, a new job, or a new way of life may elicit feelings of fear and inadequacy, driving a person to psychologically retreat from the outside world. Many people do not even realize that this phenomenon occurs and go throughout their lives being unaware of the intricacies of adjusting to new cultures and situations.
In her article "Transition Shock: Putting Culture Shock in Perspective," Jan Bennett shows that culture shock, like other types of transition difficulty, consists of the "emotional and psychological reaction . . . brought about by sudden immersion in a new and different" environment and situation (216). To avoid the situation of culture shock in the Catholic Church of the United States, both for other individuals and ourselves, we must learn to adapt and learn from other cultures. In order to avoid culture shock, individuals must not only be willing to adapt and learn from other people, but also recognize the God-given talents and gifts that all groups, including themselves, bring to the faith.
There are several symptoms of culture shock, which are similar to the symptoms of other types of transition shock. As the "virtual infinity of variables" that surrounds a new situation a person finds oneself in begins to manifest, they coalesce into an "individual impact" (217) that may have negative consequences. There are a wide variety of factors that affect how a person reacts to a particular situation, and each personal experience in new cultures and environments is different. Symptoms may manifest as "feelings of helplessness and withdraw, irritability [or] fear of being cheated, robbed, or injuried . . . [often leading] to communication problems," resulting in "psychic withdraw" (217). Just as a person in a new cultural situation is a unique human being, so are the various reactions that each individual has as he or she adjusts to their new circumstances. Sometimes these reactions are negative. The challenge, then, becomes how to counteract these negative reactions so that the individual may grow and thrive in the new environment, rather than retreat into an imagined comfort zone.