Echoes: No Sugar Coating Here

By Emma Kumpf
Blogger

It is Sunday, the first day of the work week here and the weather could not match my feelings any better.  The gray sky creates a canopy of darkness over the rainy streets of Amman.  I am trying to get work done, but my mind wanders.  I thought that culture shock would never catch me.  My past experiences with travel and exposure to many different cultures led me to believe that I am better than that (arrogant, I know).  They say that everybody experiences culture shock at some point; it’s just a matter of when, where, and how.  I refused to believe that was true for me, until now.  The dreary weather perpetuates my feelings of discontent and bleh.  I’ve caught the culture shock bug and it’s difficult to shake, so I’ve resorted to writing it all down.

It’s hard to say when or how this began, but these feelings were definitely pushed over the edge by the arrival of the holiday season.  This is one of my favorite times of year; I love the cheesy holiday movies, the wonderfully chaotic and beautiful family gatherings, and the extra splash of joy in the air.  This is my favorite time of year, but this year it is hard to recognize the holiday season.  In a Muslim country there is not an abundance of candy canes  or pumpkin anything; there are no joyful Santas standing outside the grocery store seeking to make the holidays brighter for those in need; there is no tangible holiday spirit in the air.  It is simply a dreary time of year when life goes on.

One of the few rainy days in the city of Amman
One of the few rainy days in the city of Amman (Photo courtesy of Emma Kumpf)

I keep finding myself melancholy that the holidays I love are not celebrated here.  Instead of accepting this as part of my study abroad experience, I feel sullen and depressed.  How could people not celebrate MY holidays?  Why would they want to miss out on the most wonderful time of the year?  I realize that these feelings are entirely American and unaccepting of the culture in which I am supposed to be immersing myself, but I cannot help it.  I cannot help but miss home during this time of year.  I can try to recreate my traditions from home, but I don’t think that’s the point.

I think this agitation is me learning to accept a different culture; it is a test to decide whether or not I can survive living in a society different than mine.  My time here had moved past the honeymoon phase and life here is simply normal.  It is no longer a vacation.  I am learning to survive in a different country, in a different culture, where a different religion is practiced and different holidays are celebrated.  The arrival of the holiday season has forced me to face my situation. I am no longer sailing on a cloud of falafel and happiness.  Life here is real, and I must accept that.

At the end of the day, I realize that trying to force my own holidays on another country and society is not immersing myself in a culture; it is doing the exact opposite.  I am learning to cope without some of the important things from home.  I long ago learned how to deal without Chipotle or Target, but I am now faced with deeper and bigger challenges.  I am learning to live without some things that are fundamental to my culture.  I am learning how to live life abroad, and at the end of the day I know I can do it.