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Culture Shock


Culture shock, according to various researchers, is a label for a constellation of responses to living, working, or traveling in an unfamiliar environment, such as: frustration, confusion, anger, disorientation, depression, isolation, and fear. Consultant Thomas Connell and Professor James E. Jacob remind us that "culture shock is often triggered by exposure to unfamiliar aspects of another culture", such as different food, language, nonverbal cues, or attitudes regarding personal space. Shock "is reinforced by the sense of loss or homesickness that one experiences when cut off from familiar habits, places, and things," as well as familiar people: friends, family, support networks.

Have you ever found yourself in an environment in which you were completely disoriented? Perhaps your family moved to a city in a different part of the country, or to a different country. Perhaps you were transferred to a different school. Perhaps you've been incarcerated. What elements of your new environment caused you frustration, confusion, anger, depression, or fear? What about it made you feel isolated? How much warning did you have that this change was coming? How did you prepare? How did you come to terms with your new environment?

It is one thing to deal with culture shock as a free person. It is quite another thing to deal with the abrupt and violent displacement characteristic of enslavement. Culture shock may be "a natural and normal part of adaptation to a new cultural setting," note Connell and Jacob, but there is nothing natural and normal about enslavement! And yet, enslaved persons did find ways to cope. They developed resilience.

Some of America's enslaved Africans found ways to preserve their ethnic identification, that "feeling of membership with others regarding the character, the spirit of a culture, or the cultural ethos based on a sense of commonality or origin, beliefs, values, customs and practices of a specific group of people," records C. J. Yeh. Certainly this was true of Abdul-Rahman.

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