"Almost Heaven, West Virginia..." - John Denver
First, I should probably provide a definition of what culture shock actually is:
culture shock (cul·ture shock) / noun : the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.
Seems pretty self-explanatory, right? Right. However, my definition provides an entirely new twist. And, it goes a little something like this:
culture shock (cul·ture shock) / noun : the feeling of complete and utter shock when a person does not love or feel any since of gratitude towards their own culture.
My ideas on this stemmed from a discussion that I recently had in one of my classes. We were discussing the idea of what culture is, as well as what culture we identify ourselves as being a part of. All of the answers ranged from being a part of the American culture, to being a part of West Virginian culture, to being a part of the culture of many other states, to being a mixture of cultures, to being part of a political culture, and to being a part of Appalachian culture. The answers regarding culture ranged from traditions, to holidays, to language, to food, to religious outlooks, to nonreligious outlooks, and ideas of how life should really be.
This sounds like a great discussion to those of you who are reading this, I’m sure. And, it was. I love diversity, as well as learning about other people. However, I couldn’t help but to pay closer attention to the responses of those who openly stated that they define themselves as being a part of the West Virginian and Appalachian cultures due to my own personal prejudices of identifying myself as being a part of those cultures, as well. As I listened to some of the responses regarding what these students thought about their culture, the opinions that they had formed reflected both positively and negatively on this culture that they and I chose to openly admit to being a part of. This is where my definition of culture shock came into play.
I was utterly shocked at some of the things that I was hearing. I was shocked by the fact that some of those who defined themselves as West Virginian and Appalachian could say that they were ashamed of parts of the culture that helped to build them, that helped to get them where they are, and that will have had a hand in shaping them for the rest of their lives, no matter if they like it or not. I began to find myself confused and utterly shocked to hear people say that they were ashamed of their accents. I found myself confused and shocked to hear that some people who define themselves as being a part of this culture find the negative, derogatory, and downright false stereotypes, generalizations, and jokes made about our state funny. I was confused and utterly shocked that there were people who thought that nature, fishing, and hunting, huge parts of our culture whether you partake in them or not, were seen as nothing but sport and parts of sport to West Virginians, and that we take them for granted. While I found myself growing more confused, shocked, and a little angry, to be honest, I also found myself learning an important lesson. And that lesson is this: People do not have to see the same things that I see in this beautiful state. People may not have had the same experiences as I have while living in this beautiful state. People do not have to agree with what I believe in regards to this beautiful state. And that is absolutely okay.
Through learning this lesson, I have found myself appreciating so much more about this culture that I am proud to call mine. I appreciate my accent. I appreciate that I spend the holidays with my family, and that my grandmother always cooks entirely too much food so that anyone who happens to stop by will have a full plate to eat. I appreciate that the majority of people in my hometown know my name, my siblings’ names, and my parents’ names. And could probably tell you a funny story on one or all of them. I appreciate being raised to go to church on Sundays, even if I don’t do it now. I appreciate learning that hard work will always pay off in the end. I appreciate neighborhoods being named after creeks, and I appreciate growing up swimming in those creeks. I appreciate someone telling me “thank you” when I hold the door open for them, as well as being taught to say “thank you” to veterans who risked their lives to keep us safe. I appreciate having friends that are close enough to be family, and teachers who genuinely care about your personal life as much as your education. I appreciate how a high school football team can bring so much excitement to a little town. I appreciate that at a young age I was taught how to shoot a gun. I appreciate that I was taught to stand up for myself, and to know when to walk away. I appreciate days spent riding four-wheelers in the mountains, and, later, frying up that rattlesnake that you saw on your trip. I appreciate seeing a big buck hanging on a wall, and the smile on a child’s face when they real in a tiny Bluegill on a light-up fishing pole.
I appreciate catching crawdads in the creek, and that coal keeps my lights on. I appreciate being born and raised in West Virginia, being Appalachian, and all that these two cultures have shaped me to be.