On Culture Shock, Being Here, and Being Away.

I began writing this entry on November 9, 2015. It is also the first day that I am clearheaded enough to write for the Blog here. Not that I haven’t been writing, oh, no. I have nearly a ream of handwritten notes. Getting those from one form of calligraphy to another, that’s another matter. As the heading says, I feel I must talk about culture shock. But, just what are we talking about? The bane of the anthropologist’s existence. To read more, click on the link above to read Rachel Irwin’s excellent explanation in her article, “Culture Shock, Negotiating Feelings in the Field.” I have taught this concept in my classroom for some 16 years, now, and have also related what I personally experienced when I was in the field between 1996 and 1998 in Cherokee, NC. Let me tell you, knowing mentally what is going on here, even remembering my other experience of culture shock nearly twenty years ago, does not, did not, has not fully prepared me for the moment(s) that it hit me here in Glastonbury.

It’s not that I’m uncomfortable. I have this nice little nest here at InnGlastonbury that is perfect for me. My abilities [walking and climbing hills] have increased many-fold. [Although I do wish I had a bicycle so it would be a tad easier to get to places further away.] I have the resources to have a car at my disposal (although I don’t use it as much as at home in NY), I have enough ££ to purchase food and drink and the little necessities that always come up. I have friends. Now. There are so many visitors to Glastonbury that I am just another face in the vastly moving crowd in certain times and places. Even as the darkness creeps ever nearer in the evening and mist/fog and clouds lay close along the land, tourists and pilgrims still come to Avalon. There is most certainly enough work to keep me engaged, more even, than I had anticipated when I was contemplating this project and sabbatical over a year ago. And therein lies a major part of the culture shock. I’m putting two different charts in here. One is my personal interpretation, the other is from a website called www.CrossCulturalSolutions.org .

Culture Shock chartThis one is mine and specific to my time here in England. The chart below is a longer range look at culture shock experience. So, let’s walk through the experience. It is my hope that this discussion will add to the much-needed personal experience narratives and dialogue about the subject for anthropologists, specifically, but, also for others who are sojourning in other countries, cultures, and climes (Irwin 2007).

Coming off of a rough August at home due to factors that are personal and shall remain so, I found it difficult to get excited about coming on this trip away for just over three months. I had a melt-down then and pulled myself out of that just as I was leaving in mid-September. Once I arrived here in Glastonbury, which I have written about and invite you to go back revisit that narrative, my mood lightened considerably as it was so nice to be back here in the beloved country. After that, I also had a whirlwind 10+ days coming up that included spending 5 days in Canterbury and along the southern coast. So, by the time I got back here and ready to dig my heels in, I was well and fully into the Honeymoon phase of my experience. Everyone was glad to see me after more than a year away and I had lots to do with friends. But, those who live here full time have busy lives and plans and families to keep them occupied.

It was at that point that I came face-to-face with the fact that I am in this alone. Now, just to be clear, I am not looking for sympathy or atta-girls or anything like that. What I am doing here is putting into words the processes and outcomes of my path through this project, or as it turns out, projects. In the chart below, you’ll see “the plunge” just after the Honeymoon phase. That is followed by “Initial adjustment.” For myself, I’ve been through the initial adjustment period on several occasions here in the UK. Since I have been coming to Glastonbury every year since 2011, I well understand the food and drink culture, driving on the opposite side



of the road in the opposite side of the car, as well as how and where to shop for everything I need, road rules, and things like tipping in restaurants. For me, then, “the plunge” is combined with “confronting deeper issues.” In my chart, that is stated as “Realization of the enormity of the project(s) and the work involved – being really alone [read: on my own] in this community.” So what does that mean?

Somewhere in my mind, I reckon that I got caught up in thinking that being here for an extended period of time would be like an extended 2-3 week experience which I’ve had each year for the last four. That is except for 2013, when I brought a Study Abroad group from Suffolk County Community College (where I am a Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies), for a 6+ week sojourn. Even then, I was so busy and involved with the students, driving them everywhere we went from Bath to Penzance and back again, and grading their work, answering questions, doing lectures and workshopping information, along with Margaret Meggs (without whom I couldn’t have done), that I didn’t even feel the Honeymoon phase! And, I was never alone. Margaret and I stayed for about 10 days after we put the students on their planes home, but even then, there was no sense of confronting deeper issues as we had friends around almost every day and we had each other. Now, I am not trying to speak for Margaret, but I realize now that in order to dip into those issues and work at making sense of them I need solitude. In point of fact, until this trip, I didn’t even realize that those deeper issues where there. But, of course, they are.

Having realized what I had set myself up for in terms of the work, my brain thereby made “the plunge.” On my chart that is expressed by “Feelings of Isolation and Depression.” One of the women that I have come to depend upon was away for two weeks, another person cancelled our meeting time, and as stated above, everyone else was busy with life in their own ways. I spent many hours in my nest in thought and meditation, depression and anxiety. Now, does that mean I wasn’t working? Mercy no. As Barbara Ehrenreich once said: Just because I’m riding around on a bicycle [appearing pleasant and relaxed I presume] doesn’t mean that I’m not working. She was very busy in her head. Me too. I have nearly filled a notebook with notes, some of which are already here, but some of which have not made it from hand-written form to type-written form. I’m working on that.

I am on the way out of that period, now. I feel more at home and at peace. I have made other friends and acquaintances so that I have more interaction with people. I take advantage of the splendid array of talks and lectures, music, and ritual that is the reason I am in Glastonbury in the first place. Because I have continued to step out, even when feeling depressed and anxious, to pre-set destinations for gathering data, the Abbey and the Tor, I have learned a great many things about what the people here think and feel about their town, what is going on in it, and about the people who come here on a day to day basis. Most will be forthcoming.

At the end of my chart, I have listed “Realization of time coming to an end.” I am certainly not experiencing this yet. I have thought ahead to this piece as I’ve come and gone before, as stated above. I always have a certain trepidation about leaving. But, today, I have 45 days to go. There are so many events coming up . . . gulp . . . there’s that feeling of being overwhelmed . . . that I am literally running from one to the next. Today finds me going to Cardiff, Wales to visit with and interview the lovely and phenomenally talented Gwen Davies who I met as a result of two Glastonbury Goddess Conferences. I decided to go to her in Cardiff as she has a full schedule as well. Pictures from that two-day jaunt will be forthcoming.

So, will my downward sloping feelings reappear? Probably. Is that normal for ethnographic fieldwork? Absolutely. It is where I have found myself and my place here in Glastonbury.

Faery Ball W/ Allen Lee, Art Design Master for the Lord of the Rings films
Faery Ball W/ Allen Lee, Art Design Master for the Lord of the Rings films
Faery Ball w/ Gandalf the Grey!
Faery Ball w/ Gandalf the Grey!


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