Culture shock

By John Leung Chung-Yin

People leave and travel every day, people settle, and others move on, but how much of an indigenous culture does one who is departing a locale take away? For those who have shared in the experience of immigration, it is something that cannot be easily forgotten: the first awkward steps in a new land, and the gradual growth in the months and years afterward, trying to adjust and adapt to the way of life of the host culture. But can there be a harmonization of the two, without corrupting one or the other? The adapting phase may only be the easy part, the difficult part comes with the harmonization of the cultures of the host and origin, trying to hold both in equal balance. It is a process that could be Herculean, if not impossible altogether.

A person arrives in a new locale, and settles down. Over time, they will slowly take some of the practices and the values they have learned in their place of origin, and fuse them with the practices they have learned in the new location. It is this need to adapt where the cultural mishmash happens. Many immigrants to Canada (myself included) can attest to this fact: having to get used to the new weather, the different food, language and culture shortly upon arrival. It’s all a daunting task at first, but with time the adjustments are made. It is in this process of adaptation that new arrivals acclimatize themselves to the locale. However, it is extremely easy to drop some of the old in the process of updating to the standards of the new during the process, and when the time comes to harmonize, crisis strikes.

Is it possible to harmonize, especially for those who have come overseas? In Canada, the tools to do so are accessible and are applauded with a widely-accepted policy of multiculturalism. Those native to this land have embraced this policy, enjoying the cultures of other societies and embracing them. However, it is not such an open-and-shut case. Some are bound by a strong belief system, either based on their societal norms or religion, and therein lies the difficulty. For example, in the book “Banana Boys” by Terry Woo, the stories of five “bananas” are laid bare for all to see, documenting the struggles of five Chinese-Canadians to fit into two cultures that are, in reality, oceans apart from one another. Similar cases can also be found in other ethnicities living in Canada albeit under different circumstances, but the basic gist is almost always the same: the ever-elusive perfect fulcrum that can balance the two sides.

On the other hand, is simply rejecting one and embracing only the other the answer? Can a newcomer completely blend seamlessly into another culture simply by rejecting their previous one? While it is commonly done for material objects such as automobiles, houses and clothes, to do the same with culture is to lose a part of the self, similar to cutting your own flesh. Culture is something that, while it is acquired, cannot be gotten rid of overnight: it’s not like an old beat-up car in the driveway. Even though the struggle to find that perfect balance is difficult if not impossible, it is a journey that any newcomer, from Duchess to Dakar or from High Level to Harbin, must make for themselves. While the answers may be elusive, the path that lead to them can be rewarding and enlightening.

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