During orientation, we were shown a diagram depicting the stages of culture shock; initial elation is usually followed by a period of distress and struggle, after which one begins to cope and eventually adjust to cultural differences. A week ago, the idea of culture shock was a distant thought in my mind, maybe even an abstract one. I didn’t doubt that I would experience it, I just didn’t think about it at all. After a few exciting days in the heart of the city, I moved to my home-stay. There I understood the wonder that is culture shock. As I sat in the kitchen with my new family (my host mom, Nata, and my host-sister, Anya) struggling to keep up with their lively, and (unfortunately for me) interrogatory chatter, thoughts of all kinds swam through my very jet-lagged head: Who forced me to come here? Why can’t I understand anything? Do I even know any Russian? I clung to words I recognized like a child clings to a blankie. After unpacking my things in my new room, I returned to the kitchen for dinner. We attempted more conversation, had varying success, and then I went to bed. After a few days of this, I began to notice a few things.
1. I have a future in the miming industry.
2. When I’m having trouble explaining something, my host mother twirls her hair nervously.
3. I often trail off at the end of my sentences in the hope that someone will guess what I’m thinking.
4. Nodding and smiling indicates understanding – when you don’t understand, don’t nod and smile. This leads to confusion and misunderstanding.
5. It’s possible my host family thinks I’m afraid of science. I meant to say spiders. See # 4.
6. My vocabulary mostly consists of phrases like:
- “No, thanks, I’m full.”
- “Me too!”
- “I love cats.”
Even so, every day is better. I recognize more words, and I (usually) go the right direction on the metro. During class, I no longer feel the need to jump out of the nearest window, though sometimes I do want to slam my head on a desk. And on my way home the end of the day, I allow myself to blend in with the crowd (a fallacy, since I don’t wear a fur coat or high-heeled black boots) and sway with the lurching metro car. It’s strange, but I’m always comforted by the words the float through the loudspeaker at every stop: “Ostarozhna, dveri zakrivayutsa.” Careful, Doors are closing.