By: Shawn Fulham
During my University career, I spent three years sending people on exchange all over the world, explaining culture shock to them. But the truth was that this did not prepare me for my trip.
I thought I knew everything there was to know about the feelings and emotions while traveling abroad: the excitement and fear of traveling to a different country, learning about their culture, meeting new people, and not speaking the language.
Comically, this actually led me to overestimate myself. I didn’t mentally prepare myself for the changes that I might experience in my new life in India.
Naturally, as a millennial, I thought that all the best lessons in life were learned through Disney movies.
So, I present to you my tale of culture shock accompanied by audiovisuals from the Disney movie Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs.
00:00 – 00:14 – “Run! Run away! Hide! In the woods, anywhere!”
Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to get out of Canada. I think everyone should experience life outside of their own country and culture for a multitude of different reasons (for more on that, check out this sweet article from an AIESECer about the 5 reasons why experiencing culture shock is good for you). But I had worked and volunteered for AIESEC, and provided global internships to University students for over three years. So when I first mentioned wanting to travel to Asia, most of my friends and family had the same reaction as the hunter in this clip and shooed me out the country as quickly as possible.
Similar to Snow White, I was quite naive to the adventure that was about to unfold in front of me. Note her blatant disregard to research the forest beforehand, what kind of critters she might encounter, and when the best time to visit the forest (sunset was probably a bad idea). She just darted in with zero preparation (mentally and physically) to “run away and hide.” What could possibly go wrong?
00:14 – 01:09 – Literally everything has gone wrong and now I’m stuck in a forest forever!
In just under a minute, Snow White has gone and blown everything out of proportion. She’s seeing evil hands grabbing her dress (which are really just tree branches), she’s yelling at faces that aren’t really there, and she’s just about woke up every animal in a quarter mile of the forest. R-U-D-E Rude! Don’t be a Snow White. Just don’t.
Internally, I was the biggest Snow White. I had landed at little past midnight. And if TV taught me anything, it was that bad things happen to good people past midnight. I walked out of the airport and was overwhelmed by a number of people holding signs and yelling for whoever they were supposed to pick up.
I went to the taxi stand and tried to figure out where I was supposed to go. A man told me a price that I thought was probably outlandishly expensive, but I agreed anyway because I just wanted to get out of there.
During the drive, I was scared of literally everything. Police with huge guns, the absolutely insane driving, crowded dirty streets, hotel security with airport-like scanners, and car bomb checks for every vehicle.
I had been in India for about 2.5 hours, and I was sure I was as good as dead. When we arrived in our destination, I handed the driver his money with trembling hands.
01:09 – 01:24 – Snow White slowly slips into dementia and turns into a blubbering basket case
I go to bed that night and slowly slipped into dementia, and turn into a blubbering basket case.
How am I going to survive in India for so long?
This is crazy!
What a dumb idea!
Why would I go out of my way to do this to myself!
Canada is so awesome, why did I never see it before?
I will never leave Canada again!
What would happen if I just fly home now?
Who would care?
Could I get away with it?
Do I have Money to do that?
What will my parents and friends think?!
All this and more ran through my head as I tossed and turned while trying to fall asleep.
01:24 – 02:17 – Snow White feels like a jerk for waking up all the animals
As Snow White slowly comes to her senses, she realizes her perspective on what was going on was all wrong. She realizes those scary eyes were really the world’s cutest animals looking to say hello. Guess what else? Those cute furry animals were even worried about her and wanted to make sure she was OK. Look at the cute bunny by her leg, don’t you just want to love it and hold it forever?
Snow White wipes the tears away from her face, and is probably feeling super embarrassed about the crummy first impression she made in front of her new woodland creature friends.
Similar to Snow White, I look back on some of the things I was feeling and what I found shocking on my first couple of days and laugh.
The first time I saw a cow on the road, I had a moment of O-M-G-I-NEED-A-PICTURE-OF-THAT-COW-NOW-BECAUSE-WHO-KNOWS-WHEN-THE-NEXT-TIME-I-WILL-SEE-A-COW-ON-THE-ROAD-AGAIN-WILL-BE, and the auto rickshaw driver just smiled and laughed at me.
People don’t experience true shock and change very often in their lives, and it’s truly a once in a lifetime experience that I will cherish forever.
In India, the cows, dogs, and monkeys you see everywhere are the equivalent of seeing squirrels in Canada, but things here and there still manage to catch me by surprise. I don’t know if crossing a busy street at night will ever get easier, though.
But I love it. I have made some amazing friends, met some awesome people, seen some amazing things.
Shawn Fulham is AIESEC Canada’s Asia Regional Director. In a partnership with the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and the guidance from Canadian Trade Commissioners, Export Development Canada, Peter Sutherland, Stewart Beck and a number of other Canadian mentors who support the vision of Canada’s better and increased engagement in Asia – in particular by youth, though work experiences and talent development; Shawn is responsible for raising new internship opportunities for Canadians in Asia and is currently traveling to India, Indonesia and China. For any questions about culture shock or your next internship in Asia, Shawn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org