Understanding cultural shock: International youths in Rwanda share experiences

By Esther Muhozi
On 22 May 2024 at 01:07

As the world becomes more interconnected, people increasingly find themselves in environments starkly different from their own, leading to what is known as cultural shock. This phenomenon can be driven by small, everyday differences in practices such as greetings, food, clothing, and social habits. To delve deeper into these experiences, we spoke with several youths from different countries who shared their initial reactions upon arriving in Rwanda.

Communication and Reserve

One notable observation from the newcomers was the reserved nature of Rwandans. Unlike the open and expressive communication styles they were used to back home, Rwandans tend to be more reserved and speak less. Marumbo, a poet from Zimbabwe, speculated that this could be influenced by Rwanda’s historical experiences, suggesting that past events might have shaped a more cautious approach to communication.

Impact of Weather on Daily Life

Another surprising aspect for our visitors was how the local weather affected daily activities. Lily, a volunteer from Germany, mentioned that in her country, all weather is considered suitable for any activity; it’s just a matter of wearing the right clothes. In contrast, she observed that in Kigali, a heavy rain could bring everything to a standstill, a practice that was quite unfamiliar to her.

Observational Tendencies

Delah Dube, an artist from Botswana, was initially confused by how much she was being observed by locals. In Rwanda, people tend to watch newcomers closely, which can feel unsettling for those not used to such attention. This intense observation is a part of how Rwandans interact with those who are new to their community.

Culinary Discoveries and Social Spaces

Food was a highlight of cultural exchange, with dishes like chapati, sambusa, and Sombe providing a taste of Rwanda’s culinary diversity. However, the lack of designated hangout spots for youths was a challenge. The visitors noted that Rwanda seems to have fewer casual places for young people to meet and socialize compared to their home countries.

Dress Code Adjustments

Adjusting to local dress codes also posed challenges for the youths. Rwanda’s dress norms are more conservative, and adapting to these standards required a shift in their usual attire choices, highlighting the cultural importance of clothing in Rwanda.

Through these stories, it becomes clear that cultural shock is not just about large-scale differences but often about adjusting to the subtle nuances of daily life. Despite the challenges, such experiences are crucial for fostering a deeper understanding of global cultures and for personal growth among youths navigating new cultural landscapes.

These experiences highlight the beauty of diversity and the richness that cultural differences bring to our global interactions. While cultural shock can initially be disorienting, it ultimately serves as a powerful catalyst for growth and understanding.

By embracing these differences and learning from them, individuals can gain a broader perspective of the world, appreciating the unique ways in which different communities live, work, and interact.

Through such exchanges, we not only enrich our own lives but also contribute to a more interconnected and empathetic world.