I ended up in New York this summer because I wanted the challenge, and because of all the places in the United States, The City was likely to give me the same challenges that travel provides. When you do travel, culture shock is usually what meets you as you set your feet on the road. What I forgot coming into this summer, was that this feeling is not bounded by nation borders, city names, or longitudinal arrangements. Rather, culture shock is bounded by familiarity, daily rhythms, and connections. While I am still inside the US, while I have been through New York before, while I still walk rather than take the subway, I forgot the inevitable shock that was waiting for me here.
Its in the details. I understand everything around me, but I still feel that ambiguous pull at the nape of my neck reminding me this is not a habitat of habit. I use the same language, but am still learning to respond in different ways. Y’all, however gender neutral and translation friendly it may be, is not a passing phrase. The exhaustion of meeting people, of being away from ease in connection, not just in life, is the same from here to Singapore. Understanding the background, from a colonial history to the business narrative, is still necessary and absorbing. The newness of experience in familiar places is equally shocking and exhausting, when youre thrown right into the moments that happen behind postcards and stories. Maybe laughing at the two carefree dancers on the subway provides the same jar out of normality as the variations of globally similar homelessness.
When you know a place, you think you’re familiar with it. Perhaps this is the kick in the gut of culture shock, because you arrive expecting to not have to go through it all again, forgetting it doesn’t matter. The fun part is that with every step, no matter how bored you are with the redundant cycles of shock, the next go around will always be different. And then it passes, the first irreversible change happens, and you can begin being somewhere.