Surviving the Culture Clash

Five months ago I left on an international exchange to Mozambique. Out of all the continents, Africa was the last one to strike off my checklist. I was the guy that felt like I had seen it all. Mr. Traveller: worldly, open-minded and easygoing. That was when I heard it:

“Wake up call to Marc St Pierre, time to WAKE UP”

The real world had just cooked me up a big breakfast of reality, with a side of hard knocks, and a big glass of bitter truth.

Culture shock didn’t even begin to describe how I felt upon arrival in Mozambique. I had just spent the past six years of my life travelling the world as a performer. I saw the world over a brightly lit stage, spending no more than a week in each city. But this time, I was immersed into the community lifestyle. I lived with the locals, worked with them, and hung out at all their favourite places.

Right away, all I saw were the differences. Mozambicans were full of energy, they liked to do things — singing, dancing, games — sometimes for days without stopping. My neighbours never stopped playing music, the chickens in the yard wouldn’t shut up, I ate a plate of rice at every meal, and stepping into the heat made me dizzy. The language and customs were different. How was I expected to get anything done in this exchange when I was drowning in their culture? I was exhausted.

Fast forward to phase two of the exchange, my turn to host a Mozambican in my country. I flew into Whitehorse wondering how they would find us different. They asked questions like:

“Why do people ‘hike’ in -20°C? What’s with apples and peanut butter? Why are you so obsessed with coffee? and do you really need to have Nutella on everything?”

They tried skiing, skating, and tobogganing, all at sub-zero temperatures. They drank ginger ale and ate lots of bacon, and maybe even saw the northern lights a few times. By the end of the exchange I could tell they were exhausted, much like I was in their country.

When I asked about their impressions of Canadian culture, this is what they said:

“Canadians are full of energy, they like to do things —singing, dancing, games — sometimes for days without stopping”

At this point, I decided to replace some words in my vocabulary. Instead of “they” and “our,” I decided to use “we.” It’s a much more accurate description of people.

I realise now that a cultural exchange such as this one is meant to show how people all over the world are the same, rather than different. If you really want to accomplish anything in a group the key is to put differences aside. They make good jokes, but not much else.

Now I realize haven’t seen much of anything at all. I may have learned a few things along the way, but the learning’s not over yet, if ever.

On to the next adventure, tchau.

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