Culture Shock in a Globalised World

3 October 2017


It is evident that the process of globalisation is now affecting even the most remote parts of this planet. Because of the advancements in transportation and communication technologies, the world is becoming an increasingly smaller place. Fifty years ago, it could take days to send a letter from The Hague to Amsterdam. Nowadays, everyone can send messages from The Netherlands to thousands of people all around the world in a couple of seconds. Over the last two hundred years, horse-drawn carriages and sailing ships have been replaced by cars, planes and diesel-powered bulk carriers. This has enabled both people and goods to travel relatively fast and cheaply to virtually every corner of this planet, thereby opening up places formerly considered inaccessible.

While this process has certainly brought many benefits to the world population, like the rapid spread of technological and medical advancements, it has also been criticised, for a number of reasons. Aside from complaints about income inequality or environmental degradation, one of the criticism levelled against globalisation involves the loss of culture. This is because, along with people and goods, ideas and values also travel around the world. People around the world now more and more wear the same cloths, watch the same shows and eat the same foods. By some critics, this has been described as the spread of a Westernised consumer culture, which may threaten the local cultures. In bringing more people together, globalisation might therefor harm the cultural diversity on this planet.

Examining the EAC’s collection, however, adds some nuance to this pessimistic picture. It namely contains numerous documents on people who moved abroad recently, which shows that experiencing a culture shock in the twenty-first century is still very much possible. A fine example of this is a printed out blog, written by a Dutch doctor. After having occupied several posts in the medical sector in The Netherlands, his next step in life was to move to Mongolia, in order to advise the management of a local hospital. While he was able to keep his blog updated from such a remote place in the world (another sign of the spread of communication technologies), he quickly ran into the cultural differences between his old and his new home. The most obvious example of this are the frequent stories and photos of the local celebrations, modes of dress and the traditional Mongolian homes (the gers). It would seem that there is still room for amazement nowadays.

On a more practical level, he was also struck by the differences in their bureaucracy and their work-ethic while working at the hospital. Mongolia had been under the influence of the Soviet-Union for almost seventy years. The effects of this, according to the author, were still very visible in the attitudes of their civil-servants. Blindly following large amounts of rules, without showing much initiative not only prevailed among them, but also among other groups of the population. When he became involved in a charity project for renovating a local school, it turned out that the attitude of the local construction workers towards the customer differed significantly form that of their colleagues in The Netherlands. Apparently, the customer is not always king in Mongolia. The distinct historical development of both nations thus became very apparent in the experiences of this expat.

While this single story is obviously not enough to debunk the earlier criticisms of globalisation, it nevertheless shows that cultural differences currently still very much exist. Moving to remote, foreign places can amaze, puzzle and shock expats these days, despite the spread of goods and ideas around the world during the previous decades. This is another thing which makes these documents so valuable. They provide firsthand experiences of moving abroad, getting into contact with another culture and the effects of the cultural differences. Studying cases like this namely allow one to use their experiences to enhance our knowledge, create new theories or debunk others. Thus, all the more reason to preserve them.

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