Culture Shock

Reluctantly Readjusting

Futurist Alvin Toffler wrote in his book, “Future Shock,” published in 1970, that “information overload” could potentially consume individuals psychologically, altering their state of mind.  The concept of too much information absorbed over a very tight frame might actually short circuit one’s belief system. 

From this concept evolved Toffler’s notion of “reverse future shock,” where an individual with deeply acculturated roots, upon moving to a different culture for an extended period, upon returning home experiences reverse culture shock; actually, becoming somewhat alienated from his own, previously believed, deeply ingrained roots.  This happened to me when returning from almost two years abroad when I was in my twenties.  It happened again forty plus years later after a month abroad on behalf of GIF visiting rural Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, India and Nepal.  

I always return from travel abroad changed, even if just a little.  After a short vacation, I frequently long for going back for one more day of respite from the real world.  Don’t we all?   After a lengthy trip abroad, immersed in a world of poverty and hope; poverty GIF wishes to help eradicate, and hope represented by the organizations we support trying to make an impact on some of the world’s greatest and most difficult problems. I am always changed, often so much so that I do not wish to return to my old ways completely. 

I have been back home for two weeks after a month in East Africa, India and Nepal visiting the organizations we support on our mission to help eradicate poverty no matter where it may be.  It was a long grueling trip at ground level.   As expected, it renewed my belief in people both young and old who have focused their lives on changing the world for the better.  It also reminded me of just how difficult life is for so many.  It renewed my own desire to help alleviate the problem.  Yet, now I am home and already, just two weeks later, I feel the seductive nature of American culture and how quickly it puts distance between what I experienced a month ago versus today.

To say I am lucky to live in America seems trite, but compared to the challenged others face in countries less fortunate, I am!  The happenstance of my birth here is just that.  The idea of what life might be like if I lived in rural Kenya or Uganda, almost off the grid in India, or in the slums of Kathmandu is just plain luck.  That is why I struggle internally to be who I am, who I was brought up to be, while at the same time never forgetting the beauty and seductive nature of cultures far different than my own where people struggle to get by.

We live in a big world with some incredible diverse social constructs.  Yet, common denominators are striking.  The power of the family unit is by far the most pervasive construct across virtually all cultures.   Corruption doesn't seem to be far behind.  Thus, it is true, when consumed absorbing the best a culture has to offer and while heeding the lessons from the worst, I feel stronger, more well-rounded and maybe a little more savvy. And grateful that I have the advantage of my roots firmly grounded in America and the relative luxury to dwell on it.