I will never forget the first time I experienced true culture shock.
It was my first time overseas actually, I was eighteen and I was heading to the Philippines for just under three months to do work as a missionary.
There was nine of us in a group all together, from different countries and backgrounds which was an interesting experience in itself.
Previous to this trip, I’d done some travel around North America, but never long term or overseas in a completely new culture.
We’d landed in Manila late at night, exhausted from the long flight we piled into a couple of taxis that were far too expensive and drove to our hostel. We couldn’t care less after the hours of travel, sleep was our only goal at that point.
Waking up the next morning, we decided to fight jet lag and walk around the city and get a feel for our surroundings.
As soon as the hostel doors opened I was completely floored with culture shock.
Full jeepneys and tricycles flew down the street, people practically oozing out of them. Just the sound of the city itself sent me into sensory overload, there was so much movement, people coming from every direction. The heat and humidity was unlike I’ve ever experienced.
That may all have sounded a tad dramatic, but that’s how it all felt at the time- dramatic and over the top. Everything hit at once, a complete flip upside down from anything I’d ever experienced or seen so far from my time on this planet, it all felt very overwhelming!
Growing up in Canada, a country with a small population spread across a huge mass of land, and then coming to such a densely populated area was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
We wormed our way through seas of people, all of us had heavy eyelids and were trudging through trying not to lose each other. We clearly did not fit in with our surroundings, making it every taxi driver and shop owners mission to get our business and attention, which only added to my shock.
As time went on, just like any change, this became the new normal. I noticed other cities within the Philippines I felt more at ease, despite the fact that it was all the same country; the surroundings felt less overwhelming for me personally in certain areas.
Also, some of the people I had the chance to meet and interact with were the kindest, most generous souls I’ve ever met to this day. I was floored by the hospitality given so freely to us.
Some people have said it can take up to a full year to adapt completely to a new culture. I’m interested to test that theory out, however if I’m being truthful, I’m not sure if the overall culture and atmosphere within the city of Manila will ever be my cup of tea.
As I said, I definitely adjusted and was able to accept this setting as the norm, however it doesn’t mean I necessarily fully embraced it as my new favourite place. I was ready to come home to Canada, where I could travel on empty roads for hours on end without seeing a single city.
Now that it’s been a couple years, I would love to return to it knowing what to expect this time around!
Have you ever experienced extreme culture shock, or rather, sensory overload when travelling to a new place? Maybe this has even happened to you within your own country? Tell us all about it in the comments below, I’d love to chat with you about your experiences!