Getting Into Hot Water:
“Jesse, how come Americans drink their water cold with ice? Its chilly enough outside, I just don’t get it.” This Freshman exchange-student found something so monotonous and unquestioning by Americans frankly baffling.
To which I replied, “I don’t know. Never really thought about it. How do the Chinese drink their water?”
“Hot,” she remarked, “Always hot, just like tea. Doesn’t matter when in the year either.” We began giggling together, as if we shared a secret unbeknownst to everyone else.
Then she commented: “Oh, and 中医 (Chinese-style medicine) holds that boiling hot water to drink helps a ton with menstrual cramps.” Too much information… thanks.
Food & Cultural Shock:
In her first week in the U.S. she barely could stomach a single American meal. Each spoonful made her stomach even queasier. This is a pretty interesting phenomena, and she is not alone. Many, such as myself, have trouble acclimating to the food in a new country. For example, I once went to Israel and lost my appetite very quickly. After a few days, I began vomiting, had excessive diarrhea, and experienced acute abdominal pain. I journeyed to the ER, but astonishingly, my peers who were eating the same food felt perfectly fine.
My friend Samuel K., of UMass Amherst, holds a degree in Molecular Biology and offered an explanation in lay-men’s terms:
“So, basically, the bacteria from the foods you eat live in your stomach. Each geographical region has its own kind of bacteria in their food. So when you travel to a foreign country, new bacteria gets into your system that your body is not used to. As the old bacteria and new bacteria fight for the space in your digestive system, your body eventually adapts.”
How Much Does Culture Shock Affect Biology?
The psychological symptoms alone of sincere culture shock may include anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness. However, the realization that Culture Shock also affects the body opens up its own field for research. An interesting question: How does culture shock affect blood pressure? or Does culture shock affect one’s sleeping patterns? Or appetite? Personally, these questions peak my curiosity. I hypothesize that culture shock does substantially affect biochemistry, especially in terms of sleep, nutrition intake, and even heart rate.
If scientists can establish the potential biological symptoms associated with culture shock, then tourists, politicians, and exchange students all can reap a great benefit. Those with healthy bodies will better enjoy their time abroad and connect easily into other cultures.
And you’re now more culturally aware than you were!
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