The human mind is programed to see differences. Tall, short, black, white. Without meaning to we’ve already analyzed situations and environments based on visual differences and past experiences. This ‘judgement’ served us well when discerning the differences from someone in your village and someone from a village that might attack yours, but in this day and age these differences pose only the threat that we create. ‘Culture shock’, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation”. It is interesting to me that as humans we created this term and still use it, even though those of us fortunate to have access to the internet should really not be so surprised that differences exist and that when traveling you might be exposed to them. This being said, I experienced anxiety when ordering food for the first time, or speaking with someone whom I had little language in common with. We cannot fully prepare, and as such we have this term: Culture Shock. I pose the question however, that rather than experiencing reverse culture shock upon returning home, why not incorporate the things you’ll miss and the things that you currently enjoy into your everyday life? Some things are impossible to not have get used to again, like driving on the opposite side of the road, but smaller things like not rushing, being blunt or honest, and finding ways to laugh even when all you want to do is cry are possible to bring home with you. I may be the only one in my circle or family doing so, but just because one returns to their primary culture does not mean they must abide by every socially constructed rule (laws-yes, you still must abide by those). As such, I want to share a couple things I want to bring home with me.
Before even arriving to Bosnia, our director Ann told me as she placed me at Wings of Hope that our supervisor there was one of a kind and some could not handle her blunt honesty. She wasn’t kidding, but this was the kind of person I always wanted to be. I notice that many persons living in Bosnia reflect this blunt demeanor and even though some speak with a sarcastic undertone, the truth is obvious. At home I have a wonderful boyfriend who is always honest, even brutally so sometimes, but I never wonder if he is bending the truth or lying. Ironically his heritage is Balkan. It’s hard for me to lie to make someone feel better, even though they might ask for it, because I don’t think the world needs more dishonesty. We already can’t trust the media, or persons in power. Perhaps the dishonesty and betrayal of the Yugoslav army, who swore to protect and broke that promise, along with many other factors, contributed to this cultural honesty. No matter the reason for the existence of it, the knowledge that other people choose to live this way gives me hope and comfort in my way of life as something I plan to continue to carry out.
Another such custom I wish to bring home with me is the ability for people to slow down and enjoy. This is a skill I didn’t come to Bosnia with and still struggle to accept. I am used to a fully packed schedule and don’t do well when I don’t know what to expect. Nevertheless, I was raised to believe that patience is an important skill. If anyone knows the famous psychology experiment using marshmallows, you’ll know that delayed gratification is correlated with success in all things. One aspect of Bosnian culture I do not understand is that people seem to be in such a rush while driving, but take their time if they see a friend on the road or stop for coffee along the road for hours. In the States, there is no patience and it shows in all aspects of our culture. I find I am most at peace when I practice patience while waiting for a doctor’s appointment or for traffic to move. Letting go of that urge to go, go, go is liberating and I thoroughly suggest practicing it, even if it’s hard. There is so much to learn from other cultures and although it might be hard to apply in other cultures, sometimes it’s worth the struggle and hard work.