Category: Reverse Culture Shock

Random thoughts on academic mobility

What if you decide to take root, but discover a quicksand instead of a firm ground? Serendipitously, I have stumbled upon an essay about dislocation and walked into an exhibition about uprootedness on the same day.
As I wrote earlier, mobility is part of thejob description of early career academics.  A boost to the local university, economy and science are the promised trade-offs for the temporary relocation.  Few have considered the tremendous impacts that mobility has on people’s lives.

Bruce Alexander, a retired Psychology professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC, theorizes that dislocation causes addiction. Free markets force people to move where the work is and leave their connections behind.

Walter Scottinspired visitors of the Stride gallery in Calgary, Alberta, to think about the fragile links that tie oneself to the place where they are born. They are nourished over the lifetime, consciously or unconsciously. One may not realise how frail they are, until they become stretched to a point of breaking.
Finally, in the Letters to Grandchildren (Greystone Books, 2015), David Suzuki offers grandfatherly advice to his five grandchildren, including this story about the horrendous journey of his Japanese ancestors to Canada:

Life in migrant flats

People in my apartment block are mostly immigrants, like me, but they don’t greet me. I live here four years and I don’t have any friends among the expatriates. When I came back from my fellowship, I asked myself why this happens.

There is a lot of diversity in migrant flats. People speak different languages, cook different dishes and have different habits. Coming back from work, night after night, I smell all sorts of exotic foods on our floor. Yes, that’s the thing about emigrants – they like their own food which is missing in the local cuisine. Many have also little money to afford fancy exotic restaurants. The combination of a desire for a familiar dish, combined with low income, results in higher frequency of emigrant cooking compared to host nationals. On the other hand, Irish too cooked their stews during the massive exodus to US in the 19th century. Cabbage smell was a clear sign of the Irish neighbourhood.

I may expect too much from my fellow emigrants. Many of us live in tight conditions. Our living quarters are small, often packed with children and other close or distant relatives who need a temporary shelter in the new country. Our jobs pay low. Despite the job equality, the same level of education and experience don’t guarantee us the position, and locals get these jobs easier. Adjusting to life in a new country is tough. The intercultural differences make it hard to feel good and homesickness is common. Some cultures are open towards strangers while others are guarded. The culture motley obscures navigation in the interpersonal domain and staying quiet is the safest option. Apart from the cultural differences, language may be a barrier for some. These issues create a lot of pressure on the newcomers. Smiling and saying Hi to your neighbours may be just too much to ask. Emigrant’s life is hard and progress is slow.

I saw nothing of this until I returned from Portland, OR. The time and distance created a bird’s perspective from which I’m able to see life back in our flats differently. Before, this was the norm – now, I see that life can be different. People can interact differently. Talking to strangers is not a sin. The fellowship in U.S. taught me a lesson about openness and talking to strangers, getting to know them and making friends. It makes life nicer.

Re-entry shock – you can’t go home again

Culture shock is defined by Wikipedia as the “difficulty people have adjusting to a new culture that differs markedly from their own. A reverse culture shock a.k.a. “re-entry shock” or “own culture shock” is a state when returning to one’s home culture after growing accustomed to a new one produces the same effects.

First culture shock hit me when I arrived to Portland, Oregon, in March. I thought it was over then and that there will be no more surprises about adjusting to my normal life in Europe. I did not know that the second culture shock comes when people return to their home country. Many students on exchange programs experience it. Here’s my rant.

Big surprise

The shock of the transition to Portland, OR, was surprisingly weak. It took me only a couple of days to adjust and embrace the new life there. The easier this transition went, the more difficult the second transition was.  It was new and unexpected for me. The beginnings were really difficult, manifesting in confusion and other negative feelings.

Business as usual – as if we never left

My normal life, as I knew it before, was over. Most things remained the same. The things I hated before are still there and I still hate them. But I was not the same at all. I could not avoid a feeling of disconnect between the past and the present life. Another fellow told me a story of how on her first day at work, everything turned as it was in a split second. There was just one word of her boss and just one look of her colleague and she was back to her old relationships.

Repulsion

Stereotyping and hostility towards host nationals were not as new to me as other re-entry symptoms. When we came to Ireland first time, everything and everybody looked very different. This time, my eyes became very critical this time, though; every small weakness of the new-old country seemed like a giant disadvantage.

Physiological stress reactions

I was lucky not to have any serious stress reactions, but some of my friends suffered. Depression was lurking in the background and sometimes jumped into Facebook statuses, e.g. “I have grown two wings but I can’t fly”. Examples of what happened to people who came back included divorce, no house, no job, mood swings, or people at work are not welcoming them. Compulsive eating/ drinking/ weight gain occurred too: another fellow have lost 5 kg while on fellowship but upon her arrival she toured her family for 2 weeks and gained that weight again. My mother in law lived in UK for five years and when she came back home, she wanted to return to UK immediately.

Disappointment – inability to apply new knowledge and skills

People aren’t interested in my experiences from abroad. I will never be able to use the knowledge I have gained abroad. Ambitions and competition hinder cooperation, people see you like their enemy. In the previous country, if they saw you being good at something, they supported you. Here, they envy you and try to make it harder for you. This country is broke and there are no growth opportunities. There are no money, no jobs. I could do much more if I stayed there. Smart people struggle to survive here. How can they live in such miserable conditions?

Rootlessness – I don’t belong here

Feelings of alienation and withdrawal are common symptoms of culture shock. I felt that people aren’t nice here. They don’t appreciate if I smile at them or if I start talking to them. They don’t like me and don’t understand me. I feel so weak here, so helpless and isolated. I need their response or feedback. I need to engage with them. People see the “wrong” changes when they look at me. “You’ve lost weight” somebody said and I didn’t believe her. Three other people said it later. This was not the type of change I was proud of or that I wanted them to recognize.

Boredom

The shift from a big town in a big country to a smaller country was dramatic. This is a small town, there’s nothing here. This is nothing. No life, no culture, no fun. It is boring. Services are undeveloped, ineffective and slow. They are not customer orientated. People are dull and everything is made on such a small scale that it doesn’t even matter. Everything is small. Cars, trains, houses are small; I need more space to live better. Bicycling is unsafe, there are no bike lines and cars don’t share the road with cyclists. The streets are dirty and the greens are overgrown; nobody cuts them regularly.

Our flat is very small; we need to move out to a better place. I don’t like this area; I don’t understand how I could live here before. We threw away most of our things when we came back home. Our home was not our home any more. This state is well phrased in the saying “you can’t go home again,” first coined by Thomas Wolfe in his book of the same name.
Hope

When people return home after living abroad, it can take a while to adjust to their home country. Some don’t get used to it at all. I had the privilege to meet people who succeeded in bending their new lives. The new life wasn’t great. They lived in small apartments and struggled financially. But at least some of them enjoyed what they worked on. It was a demanding and low-salaried job, and often not just one. This gives me hope that things can get better. This country doesn’t have big events, venues or communities, but there are many small, which can serve the same purpose.

26 weeks investing in Portland

Portland

Welcome to my INVESTing log. INVEST is the International Visiting Scientists & Technical Exchange Program for drug abuse research sponsored by NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse). From March-August, 2013, I was an INVEST researcher at the Oregon Health& Science University in Portland and this is a log about my experiences.

Three INVESTing points weekly (from newest to oldest):

Last Week 26 (August 26-31)

Windy and Sandy Jersey shore
Funny looking banknotes in my purse; different scent in my bathroom
With that soulful look on your face

Week 25 (August 19-25)

Here’s the opposite – a lot of professionals and not enough patients
A good bye lunch in the park
We don’t own anything; it’s on loan

Week 24 (August 12-18)

I lost my voice in Santa Rosa
I feel like I’m swimming upstream
Humans make up stories. Most people are better in the abstract

Week 23 (August 5-11)

Please note that your OHSU PC access will expire on 9/2/2013
The goal of writing is to stretch the limits of your thinking
Oregon spirit

Week 22 (July 29 – August 4)

A week of strong decisions
Picnic at Skidmore bluffs
Document the experience

Week 21 (July 22-28)

Swimming in the Frog lake under the Hood mountain
A beautiful place where I have time to think and write
The work ethics in US is different

Week 20 (July 15-21)

2 Free books in 2 days: paradise
Methamorphosis at Marquam hill
‘If the water is dark, the lake must be deep’

Week 19 (July 7-14)

It’s hard to get a credit line
Two writing workshops this week
You are my fountain of knowledge
Great art can emerge from aimless meanderings

Week 18 (July 1-7)

Charts reviews started, best time – 4.06 sec
The department is empty these days, the head brought a cake to appreciate staff
I thought I was here to learn more about research, but I’m actually learning a lot about leadership and group interaction

Week 17 (June 24-30)

73 new emails after a week out of office
A strange proposal will arrive soon
Everything depends on your determination

Week 16 (June 17-23)

at the CPDD conference, visiting San Diego again after 9 years
A complete different time space
Controlled expansion

Week 15 (June 10-16)

First focus group, first night ride through the Terwilliger… feels like on the top of the world
How long have you been using internet for? – 15 years
My first potluck at the OHSU public health

Week 14 (June 3-9)

Release from immediacy
Their number will grow, our number will die
The floor is slippery when wet (Really?)
Sometimes you don’t know what’s possible until you’re forced to do it

Week 13 (May 27 – June 2)

Where is the sun gone?
The atempt here is creating
sometimes, the most powerful and profound changes can be brought about by the most subttle and innocent moments
Journal of Japanese Gardens

Week 12 (May 20 -26)

IRB (Institutional Review Board) approval out now!
Working with other writers is good for me
Quote from a song: “Should I stay or should I go now?
If I stay, there will be trouble – If I go, there will be double.”

Week 11 (May 13 -19)

weeks started to fly by
I said: I’m an office monkey. They said: We are donkeys.
Work, Play, Love, Read

Week 10 (May 6 -12)

How to spill an oatmeal on the office floor
Two copulating mosquitos sucking blood from my arm
everybody has a different style of working

Week 9 (April 29-May 5)

My first ride to work on the cable car (aerial tram)
My friends at work make their own bread and apple preserves
I’ve been bitten by a writing buy

Week 8 (April 22-28)

First day at work in my 10-year old American sandals – the summer’s comming
Learning about my limits and acknowledging my strengths
“A lot of media advertising is based on things that make people insecure and anxious” (the Missrepresentation movie)

Getting warm welcomes by OHSU Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine (PHPM) in The Liaison Newsletter:

Dr. Jan Klimas joined PHPM as an INVEST Fellow beginning March 1. The National Institute on Drug Abuse supports the INVEST Fellows program to accelerate career development for new investigators who are citizens of a country other than the US. Jan will work in the US for six months assessing the value of screening and brief intervention for alcohol use disorders among opioid dependent patients being treated with an opioid agonist medication (i.e., methadone or buprenorphine). He plans to collaborate with Richmond Clinic and CODA to contrast US agonist treatment services with those in Ireland provided through general practitioners.

Jan is a Slovakian currently working in Ireland where he studies screening and brief intervention for alcohol use disorders among opioid dependent patients receiving agonist medication. The US provides opportunities for comparative research….
For more info, check the Winter 2013 edition of The Liaison, PHPM’s internal newsletter, is published the first week of the month and highlights news and events that took place the previous month, in addition to listing upcoming events as well.

Week 7 (April 15-21)

New office, new start
What is the American standard?
First stolen bike saddle
Forging new friendships

Week 6 (April 8-14)
car hand brake is actually a foot brake in new US cars
moving to a new desk next week
restrooms and water fountains are so common in Portland
tatoos and piercings are so tolerated… everywhere

Week 5 (April 1-7)

Who uses buses in Portland or US? Discovering Portland Metro area
Really tired
Changed my location on skype/ twitter to PDX

Week 4 (March 22-31)

First fruit of my labour on the INVEST project are here
Beautiful mornings, cycling to work on the hill
Work and life routine, getting used to it

Week 3 (March 15-21)

Conference at Washington DC
Getting to know myself better, my expectations
Everything’s so expensive
A photo from the Spring NIDA CTN 2013 conference: INVEST scholar links with Humphrey scholars:

Week 2 (March 8-14)

Why does it take so long to get used to this, longer than I expected
Too many things to do at work
I miss Ireland – listening to RTE Lyric.fm

Week 1 (March 1-7): starting in Portland

Jet lag, almost all week
My first chai
Everything is so big, different, weird
Arrived safely at OHSU; checking the “Hall of fame” aka Notice board with faculty publications by OHSU Department of Public Health (2011-13):

What happened before my arrival to OHSU in Portland, Oregon:

31/Jan/2013

Jan will speak about his previous and current research in Ireland and plans for future research in Portland, OR at the The Spring 2013 CTN Steering Committee Meeting. It will be held at the Hyatt Regency Bethesda, Bethesda, Maryland, on March 12-15, 2013.
For more info, check the section about International Symposium in the latest issue of the NIDA CTN Bulletin (January 31, 2013, Volume 13 – 02): http://ctndisseminationlibrary.org/ctnbulletin.htm

15/Nov/2012

Jan Klimas, PhD, joins the Western States Node on March 1, 2013, as a NIDA CTN INVEST Fellow.  NIDA is National Institute on Drug Abuse, and INVEST is International Visiting Scientists & Technical Exchange Program for drug abuse research, which combines
“postdoctoral research training in the US with professional development activities and grant-writing guidance to form a unique program for drug abuse scientists”(link).
Oregon Health & Sciences University hosts Dr. Klimas’ six months fellowship during which he will assess the use of Screening and Brief Intervention (SBIRT) for alcohol use disorders among patients receiving agonist medication for opioid use disorders.

Professor Dennis McCarty, Co-PI for the Western States Node, will supervise Dr. Klimas during his fellowship.  The research examines addiction treatment in primary and specialty care settings with respect to implementation of screening and treatment for unhealthy alcohol use among opioid-dependent patients in methadone or buprenorphine maintenance treatment in Ireland and Oregon.  Dr. Klimas’ prior work in Ireland informs the U.S. investigation… read more in the NIDA CTN bulletin, (issue November 15th, 2012): http://ctndisseminationlibrary.org/bulletin/20121115.pdf