Not often in my life have I found myself with culture shock. However arriving in Istanbul recently I found myself consumed by this very predicament. And realizing this, I thought I would share several occasions on this journey where I have felt a true and sincere sense of culture shock.
- Arriving in Seoul on the first day. We had just flown from San Francisco and had not been traveling for even a full day. Yet when we landed in Incheon International (Seoul’s airport) after a 13 hour flight, Alex and I immediately boarded a bus headed into the city. And without very much planning or anticipation, in just 50 minutes Alex and I were dropped off on the median of one of South Korea’s biggest streets. Surrounded by thousands of people speaking a foreign language, no idea how to get to the hostel, and holding all our luggage, it is hard for me to recall a time I have felt more lost and overwhelmed. (Spoiler: we found the hostel and it only took two hours).
- Boarding the Metro in Beijing. For weeks Alex had been telling me stories about China, what it was like, how people acted, what to expect, etc. But nevertheless when we left Beijing’s airport and walked down to the subway it surprised me to no end. I had been told there would be a lot of people, but nothing could have prepared me for the pure chaos (from volume of people and noise) that was the Beijing metro. It was shocking, but we did make it to our place. Yeah, two for two!
- Arriving in Australia. Having spent the last two months in Asia, coming to Australia was a culture shock unlike any other. And perhaps it can all be summed up by Alex and I purchasing the wrong tickets from a bus vending machine. Expecting to loose $10, instead we were delighted to find that the bus driver was actually convincing other people to buy our tickets! He helped them buy our tickets (instead of getting new ones) and giving us the cash to make up for our losses. Unreasonably kind, it was a complete shock after having such a combative relationship with many bus drivers across Asia.
- Getting to Istanbul. Cafes, parks, cobble stone streets, I would have never imagined ot be surprised by Europe. And yet here I am still trying to adjust after two days. Perhaps I can blame it on the fact that I have been traveling so long, I thought nothing else would surprise me (after all even the Middle East felt relatively familiar). But no, Europe is different. The language, the food, the amount of tight jeans and pleather jackets, everything about Europe is completely different than the US. And I guess, with all my traveling (and frequently being asked if I was European in China) I had somehow forgotten that. While Europe and America may look the same from Asian countryside, I now know they are different.
– Robert Yeagle