By Nakisha Brownlee
When I moved to Atlanta, GA, believe it or not, it was a major adjustment for me. Even though I was only a 2-hour plane ride from home, things were different, people were different and small things like trying to register a car and get a new driver’s license became a frustrating process. I had to change my way of thinking because at that point “how we do things at home”, no longer mattered. As the months continued, I slowly began to adjust to the Atlanta culture and the phrase “welcome to Atlanta” became my routine pep talk.
Currently, I do not have a phrase or mantra to get me through these annoying occurrences. All the way in Casablanca, Morocco I am at my wits end. I hate to admit this, because I have made it this far, but in this very moment I am experiencing culture shock. According to Elisabeth Marx, culture is experienced when an individual fails to adjust to their surroundings, including people that may have different motivations, behaviors, and ways of making decisions. I know all about the W-curve (click the chart on the right) of culture shock, and as much as I tried to avoid it, I think I am teetering between stage 2 and 3 right now.
The initial email that I received stated that student VOLUNTEERS were needed to assist with the International Festival of University Theater. I have always known volunteer to mean a person who performs a service willingly and without pay, but in this case maybe I am wrong.
Due to overlooked emails or delayed responses, a lot of the questions I had prior to my arrival went unanswered. Not wanting to arrive in Casablanca with absolutely no direction, I began reaching out to volunteers from festivals in previous years. Feeling a little better about the task ahead of me, I was fairly confident I could get the remaining answers upon arrival…big mistake – HUGE.
Upon arrival, transportation from the airport was flawless, so I am feeling good about the situation. Aside from the slight case of emphysema I may suffer from the public smoking inside and outside of all buildings, things were panning out fine. As I am dropped off at my intended housing over the course of the next 7 days, I try my hardest to control my facial expressions as I do a mental scan of my surroundings. Because everybody is greeting me by name, my apprehension about my unanswered questions began to disappear…until I start with my questions.
I came to realize the language barrier was the least of my worries. Knowing my French is terrible (ok, ok it’s non-existent), I was very patient with others, and myself when having a conversation; steering clear of colloquial terms and all those wonderful words I learned while studying for the GRE. The frustration began to creep back into my spirit when I realized that nobody had any information regarding my roles and responsibilities during this trip. As a meeting planner and communications major, it is hard for me to function without details on impending projects and/or activities. There is no such thing as “go with the flow” for me as it pertains to work. Within the span of 24 hours I have gone from person to person and place to place trying to figure out something, anything surrounding this program and my participation in it. My initial contact is nowhere to be found, I have not seen an official program and I am staying in dormitory with a hole in the ground as a toilet ~ I’ll spare you the details of the communal shower.
Internally I am fuming; going off in my head (I would never invite somebody to another city, let alone a country, and not have a definitive role for them. If there is nothing set for me to do, that would be nice to know…why am I even here??? I could have stayed in Abu Dhabi a few extra days). Externally I am trying to maintain a positive façade, but my inner frustration was soon made outwardly apparent. When asked by one of the participants, “how are things going” I snapped, “I wish I knew,” without giving it much thought. I immediately apologized for my misplaced anger and at that point I decided to stop worrying about trying to figure out what my intended role was to be. I made an executive decision to “go with the flow”. They know who I am and where I am staying, if they need my assistance they will ask. I will remain visible for the next 2 days, after that I am checking into a hotel. In the meantime, I made my role that of the Casablanca, Morocco tourist.
Until next time…