I moved to Canada for school in August of 2010. It was an exciting time for numerous reasons, one of which being the fact that I got my visa less than a week before my flight. I guess I’ve lived on the edge longer than I thought but anyways, that’s a story for another day.
Moving to Canada was an absolutely fascinating experience. First of all, I was 16 at the time so I was right at the age where the ratio of what I thought I knew to what I actually knew was maximized. I thought I was so smart back then and why not? I had been admitted to one of Canada’s best engineering universities at the age of 15 and only deferred my admission a year at the “request” of my mother who felt it would be irresponsible of her to send a child to live on his own for the first time halfway around the world at the age of 15. As with most decisions my mother makes regarding my life, I fought it heavily only to discover, later, that she was right.
Now, in the spirit of feeling I knew everything, I arrived in Canada fully confident that I was ready to handle whatever this new challenge could possibly conceive to throw at me. Spoiler: I wasn’t. The story of how ready I wasn’t for what I was walking into, is also one for another day, but one of the most interesting observations for me was the so-called “culture shock”.
Its funny because when one normally thinks of culture shock, they might envision stark differences in the overall societal perception of the world: “Collectivism vs Individualism”(A measure of a society’s position on the “me — us” spectrum), “Power Distance”(Deference to authority) or “Locus of Control”(the “God will do it” mentality). While these differences were most definitely present, Canadians being much more on the “me” end of the spectrum, much less deferential to authority and much less likely to put things in God’s hands as it were than Nigerians; these weren’t the culture shocks for me. They were just the expected cultural differences.
What is much more “shocking” to me are the contextual nuances of the cultures that might not be immediately apparent. Such as the difference in the use of the word “abuse”. Doesn’t immediately jump to mind when you think “Culture Shock”, does it? It’s not even like the word has a different meaning per se. It’s just used in a different context. In Nigeria, abuse generally refers to verbal insults and even the word insult is a bit strong. The connotation is too negative. It is perfectly normal to say “He abused me” in Nigeria as a casual statement. In Canada, however, the word has much more serious implications. This is an issue with a lot of words, phrases and expressions where the cultural nuances of the terms can lead to drastically different interpretations. These differences serve as a testament to the fluidity of language and the importance of context.
This is just one of many examples of the subtle nuances of that represent the culture shock I experience. Here’s another: