There are four stages that people experience when adjusting to a new culture. Each stage is marked by a different set of emotions and reactions to a given situation. Near the beginning of our stay in Guyana, my roommate and I would proclaim to each other in bouts of frustration, “I’m in Stage 2 right now!” But now long gone are the days when we characterize ourselves in terms of the culture curve. That was until one afternoon we were standing on the side of the road, and a man crossed over waving at us. His face looked somewhat familiar, but I didn’t know who he was. Without hesitation, I pleasantly acknowledged his greeting by responding in typical Guyanese fashion “All right, all right,” a gesture that might be received as dismissive in the States. My roommate began to giggle and I curiously looked at her, completely unaware of anything peculiar. She then turned to me and exclaimed, “Yvonne! You’re in Stage 4.” I had finally made it. I reflected back on all the events that led me to this point and decided to illustrate each stage using a bathroom theme as a tribute to the non-functioning ones at our school.
Stage 1: Initial Euphoria (The Honeymoon Phase)- everything is wonderful, new and exciting
- Upon arriving to the country, we stayed at dorms with only occasional running water. Learning to flush a toilet by fetching a bucket of water made me feel self sufficient. Look, I’m roughing it now!
Stage 2: Irritation and Hostility (Culture Shock)- differences between the two cultures are abundant and troubling
- After a week of living in Guyana, I flushed a toilet and a frog jumped out at me. I shrieked in terror and bolted out of the bathroom. Why would anyone want to make a home in the toilet?
- A few months later, I encountered my first concrete outhouse. Since I was never taught how to pee on a flat floor, I didn’t do so well. It was the first time I left an outhouse not feeling relieved.
Stage 3: Gradual Adjustment- adjusting begins but may not come naturally, ability to better interpret differences
- When using the bathroom at school, I always have to tell a teacher to keep a watch out for me since the stalls are too tiny to close. No, my fat ass doesn’t fit. As I was walking to the stall, I saw a flattened dead rat. I lightly gasped, but then just stepped right over it.
- It was dark and I was in the middle of a dirt parking lot with no toilet nearby. My best bet at this point was to hide behind a tree. I found the shrubbiest tree and took shelter behind it. I was content with the hidden spot I found until two bright headlights switched on and I froze, completely helpless to do anything.
Stage 4: Adaptation and Bi-Culturalism- cultural appropriate behavior comes naturally
- Driving through the savannah means no trees to duck behind when you need to go. We pulled over and I found a spot near some tall-ish grass. Luckily the roads were empty and everyone in our vehicle gave me privacy. But as I stood to pull up my pants, a large tourist truck drove by right next to me. Good thing I’ll never see them again and at least this isn’t the States where I would get arrested for public urination.
- We were passing through Brazil when we came upon a rest stop. I jumped up to use the bathroom when another volunteer warned me that the stalls didn’t have doors on them. I shrugged, grabbed my toilet paper and took off. I’ve flashed enough people this past year, a few more wouldn’t harm.