Culture Shock: A Veteran’s Experience

As a Veteran of the military, I continue to go through individual and social changes in my life. Readjusting back into the everyday grind of civilian life, hasn’t been as kind as I thought it would be. It’s not the stereotypes that people place on the backs of men and women who serve their country, but the perception of the “outsider”. In this case, me. This isn’t a post to induce pity upon the reader, but one that may strike understanding between society and the outsider. I spent close to a decade in the military, deployed four times in the combat zone, and loss comes with the territory, I know. There are consequences to every action, but the one consequence that I didn’t account for, was the readjustment. There’s a term that is used when people bounce back and forth between cultures, one that has been sitting on my shoulders, as a reminder. It’s called “culture shock”. When I think of shock, I tend to define it in a way much like fear. The mind takes everything in at once, and the reaction is almost a freezing motion. Stuck, due to an overwhelming rush of information. Immigrants who pick up and move from their homeland, and move to a place with different social behavior, go through this initial shock all the time. No matter how much someone denies fear, it’s real in the moment, or we wouldn’t have so many discussions about it. Just ask an immigrant. How does one define a person who left a country, and returns to a place that they don’t even recognize? What about a man or woman whose been in prison for years, and released? Even though our pasts are different, we share common thoughts and emotions.

I joined the military in 2004, spent most of my time training and deploying, taking me away from the naturalness of being a civilian. When I look back, I was consumed within the military lifestyle. Lived and breathed a culture in which I fell dependent on. It was my life at the time, and it will be a part of my life until my last breath. When a person is thrusted back into a culture that is foreign, there isn’t a preparation kit that can help, until you’re knee deep, experiencing that culture. There are steps someone can take to ease the blow of Culture Shock;

1) Surrounding yourself with people who are going through the same experience is a plus, but I found that it also isolates what your trying to accomplish. We may not do this knowingly. We do it because it’s comfortable and it feels safe. These feelings are a great start to the journey, because there’s a feeling of oneness. Stress is beginning to loosen its grip, and you can feel yourself starting to breathe. If you’re starting a new journey, here’s a question for you; “When was the last time you acknowledged a breath?”

When you are out on your own, challenge yourself. Break away from that comfortable bubble that may be locking you into that culture shock mentality. Join a club outside of your social circle or ask a person in your social group to join one with you. Take small steps if you must. The goal is to adjust. Some people enter a pool slowly, others jump right in. You know yourself better than anyone.

Self-Awareness is everything, in the process of adapting to culture shock. I believe in the exercises to help relieve stress, and I use them. For instance, Mindfulness is a great way to ground yourself, focus on breathing, and help you slow your mind. With that being said, it doesn’t fix the issues of Culture Shock. You may say to yourself, I’ve been back for a couple years, or I’ve been here for a few years, and I’m still having a difficult time adjusting. From one person to another, it’s common. Fear is normal in this situation; however, we still need to face the fear that’s holding you back. We will face it together. Don’t forget, it’s not about the different places we find ourselves in, but the state of mind and emotion. Each day I will discuss a different symptom of Culture Shock, and ways we can combat it through identifying some internal obstacles, that Culture Shock imposes.

I appreciate you taking the time out and reading my post about Culture Shock, and I encourage you to comment on issues that you may be having as well. You never know how you can help others, if you don’t try. Thanks again for reading Free-Word.



Fourth Wall’s Back

Garbage pits recklessly burn,
Obstructing innocent wide eyes,
Bloodshot tears vanish, before reaching their end.
Billowing above, motionless clouds of black smoke, get darker.
Silently killing people slowly, and seconds tics… crackling.
The dusty road out, now gone, only known by the memory of bare feet,
That fuses to the mouth that gave life, now spits out a toxic breath

Bodies tired, forced down by the heavy hand of heat,
Kneeling, praying in the fiery pits of hell,
Contagious coughs, delivered by the messenger,
Through its silent rage, fueled by turning heads.
Sending upward hope, hitting the fourth walls back.
Downward, words fall, broken fragments of faith,
Raining, spreading its ashes of helplessness.