Culture shock is undeniably a disorienting experience. Transitioning from one way of life to another doesn’t come without a few challenges – even for those who may think they are prepared to embrace a new lifestyle.
Taking a look at my time in Asmara so far, my challenges include a struggle with fluently speaking Tigrigna, understanding how social norms function in this society, and simply getting accustomed to everyday routines here. I was very surprised at how draining this experience was (and still is) for me – but it made me consider two things: 1) how members of the diaspora can prepare a visit to Asmara, and 2) how Eritreans who move abroad for good can smoothly transition to life outside of Eritrea.
Why is this important? Ensuring that the Eritrean diaspora is able to live successfully in any area of the world should be a concern for us all. For the diaspora born outside of Eritrea, getting us to connect with our roots and understand the significance of our culture can help boost attention and care in regards to keeping us in touch with the current goings-on of our home country. For Eritreans who have emigrated elsewhere, a key reason to adapt would be to get the most benefits possible to sustain a pleasant livelihood – essentially being able to give back to family members back home in ways that will ensure their prosperity as well.
Moving or visiting a new country involves an adjustment period that requires one to get familiar with any and everything that is… well, unfamiliar. Levels of culture shock will vary depending on each individual – meaning, if you are flexible and willing to tolerate change, it may become slightly easier for you to adapt than someone who is set on meeting all of their expectations. Research has shown that it is easier for the youth (children and early teens) to adapt at a swifter rate than their older counterparts. This is evident as social norms and values become harder to let go. Patience is a key value to learn during this time as having a completely easy transition is simply a misnomer.
First, let’s take a look at first generation Eritrean youth abroad. Their parents will undoubtedly have wishes that their children will fully know authentic Eritrean culture – but other institutions challenge that and so behavioral differences begin to form. It is easier for us who are in the first generation to adapt to the country we were born or raised into. Having two identities can seem polarizing at times – it may feel like you’re not 100% of anything and results of these differences may include a lack of understanding or acceptance of your parent identity, culture, or traditions. For those who decide to visit Eritrea, a simple tip to adapting would be to dedicate a few hours a day to at least one family member. In case there are instances of cultural cues that you do not comprehend, this can be a good opportunity to ask and learn from a local. Using your time wisely and learning your neighborhood can show you how everyday people also function on a day to day basis. As time goes on, the hope is that eventually you will be able to gain better skills in order to shift in and out of your two cultures – taking what is needed and essentially becoming a well-rounded and cultured person who has accepted both identities.
Now let’s take a look at Eritreans who have decided to move abroad. For those of us in the diaspora, look to your parents as an example. You may seem to notice how often you seem to disagree with each other’s stances, how hard it may be for you to communicate with each other, or how hard it is for them to adjust or interact with others even years from when they first settled abroad. If there is not enough accessible support, resources, or preparation, it is common to see those who have left their home country push back against the new foreign culture they are in – or even regret their move. Results of this may be solitude, anxiety/depression, or even alcohol and drug abuse in extreme cases. In these cases, the responsibility lies with the diaspora in being aware of those who are coming from back home and being sure to lend a helping hand or providing resources for adaptation – especially if they don’t seem to have a functioning support system or available family members nearby.
It is important to emphasize that struggling to adapt is normal and okay. It is simply discomfort and stress which should go away with time as you learn to understand your culture and surroundings. There are pros and cons of living in any society and it is very vital to remain open and accepting to new ideas, people, and feelings. This can essentially make or break the way you live – wherever you live. It is possible that not being able to acclimate can hinder the opportunities of your future and essentially limit you from reaching your full potential. Simply respecting and accepting where you are (although this does not mean to blindly follow cultural norms even if you are against them) can allow you the chance to grow and take over.