The term “culture shock” describes the difficult and sometimes disturbing experience of encountering different beliefs, customs, or practices in the process of moving from one culture to another. Although this may not be a popular experience for many, it does happen. In my own personal life, I have experienced this phenomenon at a young age when I first arrived in New York and had to face unexpected changes in my own culture.
I was born in Los Angeles, California and immediately moved to Puerto Rico due to the separation of my biological parents. Even though I was born in the United States, I was too young to make its’ customs and traditions my own. Instead, I became familiar with the Puerto Rican culture, including traditions, lifestyle, and even habits. It is noteworthy to add that the separation of my parents had a great effect on which culture I would become familiar with, for my Father was Mexican and my Mother was Puerto Rican. Both my sister and I went with my Mother and because of this; I was raised by my Puerto Rican side of the family. After years in Puerto Rico, my family moved to New York where I would encounter a “culture shock.”
My life in Puerto Rico and my new life in New York were in no way similar, and unfortunately, this caused some issues. I had become accustomed to my lifestyle in Puerto Rico, the noisy sounds of the forest wildlife, not having to wear shoes to run in the streets, beautiful weather all year round, even getting sick was different in New York. In Puerto Rico my grandmother was the family nurse, growing her own herbs and medicines in the garden in the backyard. In New York there was no such garden; in its replacement were needles and pharmaceutical drugs. Our family became quite different once we moved from culture to culture. Losing my medicine garden and my loud forest didn’t have that much of an effect on my life, however, losing our sense of “family” did.
Family life in Puerto Rico revolved around a strong connection and good communication. We ate meals together, confided in one another, and told each other stories, hung out with each other, essentially all aspects of life revolved around family. In New York, family traditions were much different. The family became separated and communication levels dropped. At first I couldn’t understand why the family oriented life we once shared fell apart, and then I realized it was because of our new lifestyle. New York was a fast paced city and there was not as much time for the family life we had in Puerto Rico. Time slipped away from every family member, whether it would be work, transportation, deadlines, and other things we never had in Puerto Rico. My initial reaction to this was anger and confusion. I felt emotionally frustrated not being able to confide in any family member and I found myself keeping most of my problems to myself. Looking back at this, I remember how difficult it was to replace a lifestyle. I no longer feel anger or confusion; however, I still have difficulty expressing myself to others, especially my family members.
Experiencing a “culture shock” was a true test of my mental endurance and I would not want to experience another. A tradition should never have to change once it has found its place in the heart of an individual. It should never be forced out and replaced because of the damaging effect this can have on a person. This cultural shift, that has long-lasting negative effects on the heart and mind, is what I like to describe as a “culture shock” I’ve endured it, and I carry it with me, every day since my encounter.