Is it possible to enjoy culture shock?

It's entirely possible to enjoy and appreciate the surprises, incongruities, unknown quirks of a different culture, and to reassess one's own misconceptions, and hopefully get an opportunity to discover and appreciate the cultural grammar of a foreign place on its own terms.    It is possible to enjoy the differences.   But shock is inherently negative, disorienting, threatening even; culture shock involves realizing you don't know the internal logic of a place, that the mental and emotional goalposts you relied on from your own cultural background are missing, that you are very vulnerable as an outsider who does not necessarily know how to avoid potentially offending your hosts or being taken advantage of.   Is it possible to enjoy that side of the process?  Well, some people do enjoy negative emotions, or are thrill seekers in that way.   Maybe it's not all that different from liking to eat raw habanero peppers or bungee jump, or any other thrill-seeking behavior.
Yes, and this is partly why people travel and move about in the first place.

There is a continuum between novelty and overstimulation.  People travel seeking novelty, but everyone has their own point of tolerance.  Like many other enjoyable experiences there is a natural tendency to start small and gradually push the boundaries.  Eventually, experienced and adventurous travelers "jump right in" and ride the waves of emotion that come from being out of the comfort zone. 

Even if you are not prepared to ride the roller-coaster, you can find ways to make it positive.  I know from personal experience that, when traveling alone in a foreign country, I will be homesick and ready for a break from stimulation about three days in.  I've learned to embrace this, and use it as a time to chill out, locate some comfort food, write some letters home, maybe do some laundry, without feeling guilty about not "getting out there".

Yes, I have found myself overwhelmed by the otherness of places in the positive, and often.

Basically, anything cultural that is nicer in a place than in the one you have just come from could count as a positive culture shock.

I'll never forget flying from New York to Stockholm one December. I had left New York to the sound of baggage handlers cursing and shouting, customs officials looking ready to take me apart, and taxi horns blaring. And as the plane touched down in Stockholm, I became aware that every single window in the airport building had a little set of Christmas lights in it. There was snow on the ground, and as we made our way into the terminal, friendly ladies with pearl necklaces greeted us as if we were family.

I thought "this is what heaven is like."


Yes it's quite possible, and, in fact, one of the reasons for traveling - to get out of your personal and cultural ruts.

For a detailed case study, see Jeff Wright's answer to What is your most memorable cultural shock?


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