Think about the sound a slab of marble makes when it slaps a stone floor. The thud of a granite rock falling onto concrete. The boom a second after lightning strikes a mile away. Now think not of the sound, but of the feeling it gives you: the jolt under the breastbone; the tingling in your fingers and toes; the shaking under your ribs, your body resonating to the deep thrum of an impact. The flat crash of marble against marble, the dry crack of granite on concrete, and the slamming of close thunder are not sounds, but vibrations. When they pass away, my molecules will never align in quite the same way again because of their passage. I feel internally changed by them.
This is the feel of culture shock.
The feeling of culture shock is not related to the shock I feel when I jerk back upon touching a live wire. Culture shock is not my disorienting realization that I haven’t been threatened by a cloud in a week, and I am the one who needs to learn the language and dress differently. It is my internal experience of massive change: I am changing in how I see the world. To me, culture shock is the sneaking suspicion that I will never be the same because of what I now know. The sound of thunder is not it rolling around me, but rolling through me.
“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson