Clearing Up Culture Shock

Alexandra Eakes
June 27, 2014

I realized today that much of the frustration I have been facing during my trip thus far has been because I was denying the fact that I was experiencing the sensation of culture shock. Before coming on this trip, I had thought that with enough preparation I would be able to avoid the discomfort and confusion of culture shock. I thought that coming in with an open mind was enough to avoid this phenomenon.

I was wrong.

The reason is because it’s not always easy to recognize. My first class in the study of Brazilian society at IES Abroad explained many of those tiny frustrations by making me realize just how different this culture is.

One thing I learned about was the Brazilian idea of family. In Brazil, the word family is used extensively. It is used to describe one’s relatives, but it can also be applied to close friends who form one’s network and home life. At my homestay, I live with a host mom, but there are also other people in and out who stay here but are not related. I was initially confused by this, but I brushed it off. I was also surprised at how quickly my host mom began to treat me as her own family. She ate after me literally on our first day here. It was very unexpected. Learning how Brazilians apply the concept of family has helped me to better understand these actions.

Also learning about the tension between hierarchy and intimacy in concerns with maids helped me to understand the relationship with our own maid. I found it odd that she comes to work, but is able to eat and go about regular activities as if she lived here- as if she were family. But at the same time, she uses a different door- the servant’s door- to come in. Learning that there exists a tension enabled me to recognize this in my own situation so that I am no longer confused.

One of my biggest frustrations has been from my inability to find a gym similar to the ones at home. I have had a difficult time because people here are themselves not entirely familiar with what they call “the American gym experience.” I have been wanting to find one so I can stay active as I am used to, but I am learning that that is just not the Brazilian way. I have been frustrated because I have been trying to force my own idea of how something should be in a culture that sees things differently. In Rio, people generally exercise differently. They run around the mountains, swim or surf in the sea, or lift weights on the beach. The “American experience” is not what I will find here.

Learning these differences has helped me to clear up culture shock by viewing things in a new perspective- the Brazilian perspective. I am very excited to see what else I will experience and learn. Now, I am truly living Brazil.

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Alexandra Eakes

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">I grew up in the small town of Tahlequah, Oklahoma where I lived with my parents and sister. I currently attend Princeton University, Class of &#39;17. I am a LEDA Scholar.</span></p>

2014 Summer 1, 2014 Summer 2
Home University:
Princeton University
Biological Chemistry
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