From the Desk of Dr. Culture
Greetings to our many clients, partners, friends, and colleagues. We’ve missed you! We can’t wait to get back into your classrooms and help prep your employees face-to-face for the many cultural challenges that flow from their international engagements. In the meantime, while providing some direct “Subject Matter Expertise” upon request, we’ve asked our many contributors to pen topic-related vignettes, which we’ll hang on our website. I encourage you to review and hopefully create a worthwhile dialog as we await the opportunity to be with you in person. As always, we’ll continue to both solicit and respond to your questions. Just email me at email@example.com!
Our first essay comes from Mr. Rich Holbrook, former Adjunct Professor of Intercultural Communications at the combined Joint Special Operations University and Air Force Special Operations School. Mr. Holbrook is updating his “Culture Shock” presentations and is potentially testing the waters for a new book on the topic. Here is his “Shared Moments in Time: The High School Reunion,” — a personal look at Culture Shock – Holbrook style.
“Culture hides more than it reveals, and what it hides,
it hides most effectively from its own participants.
Years of study have convinced me that the real job is not to understand foreign cultures but to understand your own.”
Edward T. Hall
Shared Moments in Time: The High School Reunion
I’m about to embark on an introspective journey back in time, something I hardly ever do, but it’s for the right reasons, and I encourage you to join me. Many of you are still working remotely, managing childcare, arranging virtual schooling, and myriad other things while trying to maintain your sanity during this continually challenging, eternal period of time. Perhaps some of you, like me, are in a “holding” pattern and wondering how to best pass the time while remaining engaged and relevant – in my case as an Adult Education professional. For you Boomers, Google may be unnecessary for some of the people/references listed. The rest of you, however, may need ready and constant access to your favorite search engines.
It seems like years since I’ve been face-to-face with students. I have responded to varied requests for information or assistance in my areas of expertise but have primarily been “reviewing” videos on YouTube. I think I’ve now watched every live performance Eric Clapton has ever done. If you don’t know who Clapton is, this story might not be for you. I’ve streamed Zumba, HIIT, P90X, and many other alleged “beneficial” workouts with my gym closed. As a result, I’ve gained ten pounds – brilliant! I now even walk daily with my wife – is there no end to this madness!
While analyzing a Mark Knopfler video for educational content, an email popped up and caught my attention. I almost deleted it before reading; my default position on addressees I don’t recognize but, as busy as I wasn’t, I clicked it open. It contained a link to a site advertising the upcoming 50-year reunion for my high school class of 1971 (since delayed, due to COVID, until 2022, thus a 51-year event). I’m not on Facebook these days and have a very limited presence on social media sites, so I’m not sure how this actually reached me, but it got me thinking.
Fifty years – could it really be that long or, more to the point, am I really that damn old! I stood up, squared my shoulders and headed for the mirror. Son of a bitch – I am.
The face looking back at me was weathered from too much time at the “pointy end” of DOD’s spear. From Vietnam to Desert Storm, Provide Comfort, Inherent Resolve, and so many more. A once proud warrior now appeared deflated and tired. My thinning hair was of an unrecognizable color, and my once spectacular hazel/green eyes were sunken relics hidden behind sun-damaged bags and sagging jowls. I was able to suck my “slight” paunch up into my chest, but that was too much of an effort to sustain for any significant period of time – damn, I looked good! I’d earned my title – Professor Emeritus, which, for those who don’t know, is Greek for “about to die.” Great. I was reminded of my mother’s words in 1983 when I visited her after a three-year stint in Spain; she said she thought Burt Reynolds had come to visit – what a gal! How to proceed.
I shut off YouTube and started thinking. I’d never been to any reunions, be they high school, college, sports teams, or military units – never saw the value in them. I’d maintained close relationships with valued colleagues, friends, and even some family members but never saw the need to re-live past glories or, for that matter, failures. But then I’ve never slogged through the monotony of a pandemic before.
I started thinking again. High School was not my finest hour and, to me, represented a failure in an otherwise successful life. I always wrote it off by telling folks I was a “late bloomer,” but, as I’m about to reveal, other factors were in play that I didn’t recognize at the time. With 50 years of hindsight, reflection, and recriminations, it was time to look back, a concept utterly alien to me outside of the Lessons Learned military world I’d occupied for decades.
This action could be risky and could open me up to the unthinkable – feelings and emotions! I defeat those during lectures by using self-deprecating humor amid give-and-take sessions with students – I’m in control. However, the pen can be mightier than the mouth (unless captured on YouTube). I’ve been a guarded man for many years, hiding behind national security and classification protections – time to change all that. I’m in life’s fourth quarter, facing several health challenges, and am in a self-reflective mood – time to expose myself and opt for a therapeutic ride back to the 60s – that’s the 1960s! This journey is, for me, personal, but it might be helpful to you too. I intended this to be a lighthearted jaunt into my past – it didn’t quite work out that way. It wasn’t just me now – it was other peoples’ lives, their privacy, and their absolute
right not to join me in my quest. I started undaunted. I had issues to revisit, people to thank, and apologies to provide where needed. I was a fairly quiet kid in school, but now I was an aging, still competitive Type-A adrenaline junkie on a mission, albeit this time as a “keyboard warrior,” or is that “keyboard coward.”
The first stage of culture shock is often overwhelmingly positive, during which travelers become infatuated with the language, people, and food in their new surroundings. The trip or move seems like the greatest decision ever made at this stage, an exciting adventure to stay on forever.
Before we start, let me be clear, no matter how clever you think you are, you cannot change the past, for better or worse. The past “just is.” Your actions there remain part of your legacy and that of the people around you. Learn from it, or reject it, but realize you exist in the present. There’s nothing “cosmic” here. I’m going back for a reason – and am clear in my intent.
A few years ago, a valued colleague, commanding a major Air Force unit for the first time, clued me into the “Power of Vulnerability” and how it had improved her as a leader, an officer, and as a person. Admitting vulnerabilities in a leader in my day was anathema to advancement. However, the Air Force, in particular, had embraced the powerful works of Dr. Brené Brown. Exposure and awareness of personal and situational vulnerabilities were now seen as positive leadership traits. Asking for help in dealing with them was welcomed as the best course of action. Therefore, in Dr. Brown’s words, “today I’ll choose courage over comfort.” Hence, my trip down Memory Lane.
That fateful invitation I opened took me to the reunion’s RSVP page. I scanned the list of students from the Class of 1971 that were planning to attend. I recognized a few and stopped when I saw the name of someone who’d shared a moment in time with me so many years ago. I clicked on the name, and up sprang a picture of a brilliant young lady, all hair and teeth, exuding the strength and confidence for which I remembered her. At this point, I took my hand off the mouse (I’m “old school,” OK?), got up from my desk, grabbed a bottle of water, sat back in my reading chair, closed my eyes, and took myself back to 1967. We’ll pick that up a little later.
For those who have read some of my stuff or suffered through my lectures might recall, I’m an immigrant to this wonderful country of ours. When I was a 12-year-old lad, my parents forced me, largely against my will, to come with them from the United Kingdom in January 1967. In England, I was a really cool, outgoing, popular kid who could balance a soccer ball for hours while simultaneously orating on topics of the day from the Beatles to the royal family and the latest in Carnaby Street fashions. I was the lead singer in my Grammar School rock band, mainly because I had memorized the lyrics to “Love Me Do” and “I Feel Fine” and was able to make a halfway decent noise on the harmonica. What girl could resist a lead singer…watch out Mick Jagger!
England, for the first and only time, had won soccer’s World Cup in 1966. It was my destiny, by 1974, to captain England to another World Cup victory – I had it all planned out. Then I woke up in North West Philadelphia – my life was over. Culture Shock here I come – and this is before high school. Let’s pause here and review the Culture Shock phenomenon before moving forward.
“Culture Shock is the anxiety experienced by people in completely new environments.”
Kalvero Oberg, Canadian Anthropologist
T.E. Lawrence, “Lawrence of Arabia,” provided a more practical approach:
• “How could I, as me, meet these new people?”
• “How would I have to change?”
• “What of me was superficial and might be sacrificed,
and what need I keep to remain myself?”
For the layman, culture shock is simply feeling out of place while in a certain place and time. T.E. Lawrence was one of the first to direct the power of Culture Shock towards establishing, maintaining, and manipulating positive relationships in order to achieve a shared, mutual goal – he remains one of my heroes. Rather than use military definitions and examples of Culture Shock, I’ve chosen instead to use those first developed by Canadian Anthropologist Kalervo Oberg, one of the pioneers in the field. He lists four distinct stages:
Stage One: Honeymoon
The first stage of culture shock is often overwhelmingly positive, during which travelers become infatuated with the language, people, and food in their new surroundings. The trip or move seems like the greatest decision ever made at this stage, an exciting adventure to stay on forever.
Stage Two: Frustration
This stage may be the most difficult culture shock stage and is probably familiar to anyone who has lived abroad or travels frequently. At this stage, the fatigue of not understanding gestures, signs, and the language sets in, and miscommunications may often be happening. Small things — losing keys, missing the bus, or not easily ordering food in a restaurant — may trigger frustration. And while frustration comes and goes, it’s a natural reaction for people spending extended time in new countries.
Stage Three: Adjustment
Frustrations are often subdued as travelers begin to feel more familiar and comfortable with the cultures, people, food, and languages of new environments. Navigation becomes easier, friends and communities of support are established, and local languages’ details may become more recognizable during the adjustment stage.
Stage Four: Acceptance
Generally, though sometimes weeks, months, or years after wrestling with the emotional stages outlined above, the final stage of culture shock is Acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t mean that new cultures or environments are entirely understood. Rather it signifies realization that complete understanding isn’t necessary to function and thrive in the new surroundings. During the acceptance stage, travelers have the familiarity and can draw together the resources they need to feel at ease. With that brief background in mind, it’s time to head back to January 1967.
I’m about to begin the 8th grade, mid-semester, at a monstrous concrete edifice, just a short walk from our row house in the burbs. At that time, Philadelphia utilized a 1st through 8th-grade system at one school, followed by 9th through 12th grades at the high school level. I had to survive the semester in order to advance to high school. So, on the first day, after I ditched my mom, I’m linked with my Homeroom Teacher, a very young and welcoming lady. We chatted for a while and immediately recognized we were two people separated by a common language – is this Scotland? She escorted me to class and introduced me to the students. Every single one introduced themselves and welcomed me effusively.
Admittedly, I was somewhat overwhelmed and ready to pass out. One young lady in the class was singled out, and as I stood there, I’m told she would be “assist” me until I became familiar and confident enough with school operations to stand on my own two feet. I was a bit embarrassed but this young lady, Joann, was so positive and friendly that I couldn’t help but rise to the task. I was so warmly included in all events that I even started playing baseball and eating the occasional Philly cheesesteak sandwich. The girls wanted to listen to my accent, and many gave me their school photos and wrote how “sweet and adorable” I was – very flattering and, of course, true – I was a shiny, new toy. Most of the boys accepted me, but a few didn’t react quite so positively – I survived. It came time to graduate in June, and I found myself not in a rock band but performing a duet of “Edelweiss” from the then-popular film the “Sound of Music.” I never sang in public again. Please don’t let my Brit friends find this out.
At this point, I’m feeling pretty good about things. As you might have guessed, Joann and I were now a “twosome,” and we were soon to start high school together. What Culture Shock – Honeymoon Stage baby! Then the bomb dropped. My uncle in Los Angeles had helped my father find a good job there, and we were soon headed for Tinsel Town — NO!
It was a very difficult goodbye for a 13-year-old who was sure he’d found the love of his life – I went kicking and screaming. Joann and I kept in touch for a few months, but passions faded over time as they do. I never saw her again but more on that later.
Hello, sunny and very smoggy SoCal. We landed in a mostly white, suburban enclave in SE Los Angeles, and I prepared to attend the local junior high school. We set up a home in a three-bedroom apartment close to the eastern city limits. It was a nice spot with a pool, and there were some really cool residents as our neighbors. Hmm, I thought. This might not be so bad after all; on to 9th grade.
Things started out OK. I’d made a few friends over the summer, so I was just about set for the next adventure. The school was close enough for me to walk through nice residential neighborhoods to the campus. After a brief in-processing, I was met at the door by the Vice-Principal. He didn’t seem particularly friendly, nor did he welcome me. He told me I’d better get a haircut before coming to school the next day. Nice to meet you too! I went off to class, got settled in, and headed home at the end of the day. When my father got home from work, he asked me how school had gone, and I told him about the haircut. My dad, a plain-talking, distinguished WWII veteran, was perplexed. Wasn’t this America – where Freedom rang! My hair was pretty short – especially for a lead singer. He asked me to leave it with him – and I did.
He took the time to leave work the next day and visit the school to chat with the Vice-Principal. I don’t know exactly how the exchange went, and my father didn’t elaborate, but I didn’t get a haircut for another month or so until he indicated it was time. Thanks, Dad.
Things at school weren’t going too well, the kids were nowhere near as friendly as those back in Philadelphia, and the gloss appeared to have worn off my English persona. The extrovert from England, with a brief stop in Philly, was turning inward. Looking back now as an experienced observer, I was now experiencing the second stage of Culture Shock – Frustration! I’d managed to avoid that in Philadelphia while reveling in the Honeymoon stage. I’d developed a social network there that allowed me to transition from one culture to another with little difficulty, and I had accepted the changes and been accepted by the new eighth-grade culture group. Ninth grade – not so much. I began to hate school and lost interest in just about everything. There was no soccer to fall back on and no close friends to lean on. I was grumpy to my family and, at one point, ready to run away from home – not sure to where but I doubt I could have made it back to Philadelphia. To sum it up – a real “shit show.” I looked towards the heavens once again.
Ninth-grade science – yawn! One day early in the semester, the teacher decided to move students to new seats in an attempt, I think, to reduce some of the excess “chatter.” I was at the right end of the second row of students in front of the teacher’s lectern. Behind me was a student table that now comprised three young ladies, the one immediately to my rear was a very bright and effusive girl named Karen. By this time, I’m just an average student trying to make it through the day. I was still in withdrawal and was not engaging at any level. The ebullient Miss Karen would change that. Hello, Adjustment stage.
To this day, I’m not exactly sure how she did it, but we began to talk, and I discovered she was not only bright but also funny with a quick wit that would be the envy of my home country. She slowly brought me out of my shell – whether she knew it or not – but I think she did. It was different than Philadelphia, but I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. What could go wrong? Somehow the Science teacher didn’t get the memo. He labeled me as a “troublemaker” and sent me to stand outside the classroom on several occasions, and scheduled me for detention – I didn’t care. Karen was much smarter than me and, I think, escaped all methods of student punishment. Great memories. At the end of the year, we became good friends and agreed to exchange letters over the summer. Her friendship enabled me to knock on the door of the Acceptance Stage as high school beckoned. I looked forward to her letters and felt increasingly confident that I was successfully assimilating into American culture. My English accent was largely gone, and I was energized to move forward. I’d even been able to generate some interest in a soccer league at the local park, so I now had a physical outlet to lend strength to my internal struggles.
High School didn’t seem so bad at first, and my classes were fairly easy – I even made the Honor Roll in the first semester (for the first and only time). I’d made a few new friends, had no confrontations to speak of, and felt able to survive and perhaps move forward. Sadly, I didn’t have any classes with Karen, and I didn’t see much of her. In one of her summer letters, she gave me her phone number (rotary landline of course, this was 1968) and asked me to call her, but I didn’t. We never had a home phone in England – very few did in those days. We did have a phone in our apartment now, but I’d never used it, never spoke on it. It was a technological challenge I wasn’t ready to overcome, and since it was for a personal reason, I didn’t want to ask for help. I never called – and I regret it. Joann and Philadelphia came easy, it seemed more complicated with Karen, and I couldn’t figure out how to solve it.
I saw Karen at the first varsity football game of the year and was excited to talk to her in person. She had grown and matured over the summer. I had not. I have a fairly good memory of that conversation, which was the last time we spoke. I was wearing a Water Polo T-shirt, and she asked if I was on the team. Hey, I’m English; I didn’t learn how to swim until I’d jumped into the apartment complex pool (shallow end) at the age of 13. Water Polo was the school’s most successful sport – the team were perennial champions. However, I had spent some time with the team over the summer and actually gave it a brief go. Now 14, I was still on the small side, but I figured that was irrelevant in the pool, so I gave it a try. It was going well until one of those champion “dolphins” hit me under the waterline and turned me into a soprano. That was enough of that.
Believe it or not, I don’t think I ever spoke to Karen again. There was some high-school idiocy partly to blame (3rd party girl talk as I recall), and I let my emotions get in the way of my brain – hey, I was 14. I missed her but had to face the facts. I saw her around campus but never spoke to her – I was an immature moron, and it was beginning to affect me in other areas. We did share a semester in the same 12th grade English Lit class, but I didn’t acknowledge her – I believe intentionally on my part – what a jackass I had become. The cultural differences in the 10th grade were immense, and it took me a long time to understand why. As an immigrant, I had no ties to American high school traditions: dances, parties, plays, homecomings, proms, etc. I’d not grown up in this system.
On the other hand, Karen had spent almost her entire K through 12th educational career within this city school system. She knew the people and understood the growth and maturity that came from participating in school events – it was almost a patriotic duty and one that was and is still supported by most American parents. I only really clued into this when my own daughter was in high school – and I wanted her to be part of and enjoy this form of pageantry – almost a rite of passage. Karen moved on, met a very solid young man, and they are still together to this day – and I couldn’t be happier for them – I just wished I’d taken the time to thank her for the friendship she’d shared with me.
I recognized many of my shortcomings going into my 11th-grade year – I was angry, and I needed to find a way to focus my attention positively. I’d been suspended from school for three days for allegedly being rude to my Geometry teacher – which I strongly deny doing to this day (my eyes always got me in trouble!). I was headed down the wrong road – did I really want to be a “bad boy” – maybe!
The school did not have a soccer program, so I tried out for and made the track team. I was an angry soccer player – I could run. I had two successful years on the Track and Cross-Country teams, earning an MVP award, so I had the physical part figured out once again but was still short of social/emotional progress. I clung to English “individualism” and refused even to try and break the cultural wall in front of me. I was, and in some ways perhaps still am, a stubborn, stiff-upper-lip type, but I gradually eased into the Adjustment Stage. Complete Acceptance would elude me.
Now, this was high school – I’ve not mentioned hormones to this point – but mine certainly began to kick in between the 10th and 11th grade. I’d lifted weights all summer, done some odd jobs (mainly car washing and gardening – which I’m still doing to this day), and spent a lot of time at the beach. I knew dating was out in the traditional sense based on my disdain of the American high school social structure. However, I lived in a large apartment complex and very close to a park containing a teenage hangout area. I’d also joined a YMCA Club (the Nomads) and did my best to participate in some local traditions. Let’s just say “things” worked out OK, and all participants successfully avoided any form of long-term commitments. On the downside, our YMCA advisor had been drafted into the army and killed in Vietnam. That affected me, and I started to watch the extensive nightly news coverage of the war. Just a few short years later, I’d be walking some of the same South East Asia ground – that’s a story for another time.
I want to return now to the reunion and the reason for this long story of personal reflection. I don’t intend to go to the reunion whenever it is held, but I did want to revisit my early days in the US and perhaps attempt to reconnect with some of the key players I’ve mentioned so far – I needed closure. I mapped out a plan. Remember, we’re in a pandemic – if I’m not doing the laundry or mowing the grass, I’ve got the time and experience to develop and execute a plan. I wanted to find and reach out to those who had helped me transition into American culture. My list was short: Joann, Karen, and two boys, now adults, in California. The first was my neighbor (Class of ’73) and a standout water polo player – he went on to have an incredibly successful career as a college swimming coach. The second was an ally on the Cross-Country team (Class of ’72). He was my closest friend, and we shared a lot of quality time together.
First, I had to find them. In the words of Liam Neeson, “I possess a very specific set of skills.” That plus, I have several “nerdy” grandchildren able to navigate most if not all social media challenges. I now had to find the best approach, trying not to “creep” anyone out and appear to be a desperate stalker. But let’s get back to the goal – that is to discover how my “cultural difficulties” impacted my actions and those around me in those early days. Teenagers’ actions and emotions may seem unimportant but let the professor make it clear here – cultural “imprinting” occurs at a very early age – and is usually completed well before the age of 10. When you are analyzing yourself – everything is in play – just ask Sigmund Freud.
Again, what could go wrong? It had only been 54 years – no worries.
I reached out to both the boys but have not heard back from them – I’ll keep trying.
Karen was the easiest to find – I knew her married name, and it was a simple Internet search. I elected to write her a brief, honest letter, expressing my appreciation for her friendship and my apologies for being an immature jerk those many years ago in California. I wasn’t sure how it would be received, but I needed to prep and send it. I felt it might appear as an intrusion (which it was), be wrongly interpreted, and I honestly didn’t expect a response. Naturally, I was wrong. Ever the adult, she returned a warm note, and we began to update each other on our lives – 50 years’ worth. It’s a friendship I hope to retain, and she was among the first to review this article. So far, so good.
Joann proved harder to find – and I tried every trick in my investigative playbook without success. I dug out the Class of 1967 picture and tried to remember Joann’s closest friends. I selected two – Miriam and Debra, who I remember were also extraordinarily nice to me back then. Well, I’ve still not found Miriam, so Debra it was. I got lucky, she was on LinkedIn under her maiden name, and an address and phone number were listed. This time I decided to send a brief text introducing myself and asked if she was a member of that 1967 class. Indeed she was. Now a very successful business owner in Washington DC, she returned my text and asked how we knew each other. I sent her a quick snap of the class picture, which included Joann and me, and asked her to remember Edelweiss. I was in – although she did initially fear I was a serial killer/stalker. So, in her first note, she brought out my familiar 1967 descriptive phrase – “you were such a sweet and adorable boy.” She’d gone to a different high school than both Joann and Miriam and said she’d also like to reconnect with both – but she didn’t know how to find them. She asked me to keep looking and keep her posted. Thanks, Debra. We exchanged some very nice notes, to be fair, and we remembered each other fondly from those days so long ago. She also could not recall who sang the Edelweiss duet with me.
Back to the drawing board. This had been fun so far but now seemed impossible. No one I could find knew Joann’s married name. I reached out to one of my former colleagues, a licensed Private Investigator, but he was also unable to locate the link we needed. I was frustrated, but I was not going to give up – she had to be found.
As fate would have it, the same night I heard from Karen, I had a breakthrough in my search for Joann. I was up late revisiting the class list for Joann’s graduating year of 1971. I’d already reviewed the list several times, but I now looked for other girls named Joann with different last names. There were two. I typed the first name into one of my trusty search engines and came up with a link to Legacy.com that listed her maiden name and the birth date listed as 1954. I was close. I clicked on it, and my heart sank. It was an obituary. I read with dread that she had passed away in Feb 2001.
I’ve commanded and lost troops in all manner of situations, but this was different. This was my vibrant 13-year-old soulmate. How was this possible? It was crushing. At that moment, I learned that one should prepare for all outcomes when one goes digging into the past.
I couldn’t sleep that night but was clear in what I intended to do. The obituary provided the names of both Joann’s brother and her daughter. For my peace of mind, I had to reach out to one or both. I decided to start with her brother and got some traction but could not link him to a working email or mobile number. I found an address for Joann’s adult daughter from the obituary, plus a possible email and home phone number. This had to be done right. I decided to call the number. It went to an answering machine, so I left a very brief message and my number. I didn’t expect an answer. Yet, several hours later, as I was writing a “snail-mail” letter to Joann’s daughter, Dawn, my phone rang.
It was Dawn, and I steeled myself for what I felt would be a difficult conversation – and for my part, it was. She was brilliant and offered details of Joann’s life, her brief illness and promised to send more information and photos by email. I’d sent her a short email with the Class of ’67 photo attached and promised to send her an enhanced full version. With a local graphic artist’s help, I obtained a first-rate, hard-backed copy of the photo, which is now headed Dawn’s way. In the meantime, I’m awaiting photos of Joann from her. Dawn has a 17-year-old daughter, Joann’s granddaughter, who sadly never met her grandmother. Joann was gone, but she’ll forever be in my memory and in my heart.
Sadly, I had to pass this info on to Debra, and she was equally distressed to receive the news. We pledged to stay in touch, and I promised to visit her on my next trip to DC. We’re also still looking for Miriam and are hopeful she is alive and well.
The story doesn’t end here, but it’s time for academic input, and my professor’s hat is back on. Culture Shock is real. It affects lives but can be lessened if not ultimately overcome. Easier to recognize in adults, in the main, easier to defeat in children. In teenagers – it bounces in either direction at any time. No matter their cultural imprinting, human beings will react to certain stimuli in predictable ways. Getting to know friends, colleagues, allies, even enemies (where possible) on a personal level reduces the chance for unnecessary friction and may lead to productive relationships that can be strengthened over time. There’s no single checklist for this – it’s people-based. In practical terms, that means some are good at it, while others are not.
What I couldn’t see between 1967 and 1971 is now forever etched in my brain. For me, the end justifies the means. I can’t fix past transgressions, but I can acknowledge them openly and welcome both criticism and support – that’s part of the personal growth process. I didn’t seek absolution or salvation, that’s not who I am, but I now have a level of closure and have reached, in my view, the stage of Acceptance.
I no longer view my time in high school as “lost” years – it was a process – I’m full of imperfections, as are all of you, and I just didn’t recognize their genesis at the time. Go back to the top of this essay and review the quote by American Anthropologist Edward T. Hall. The United States and the United Kingdom share an overall cultural homogeneity. If I had remained in England, I would have gone through a similar social growth period as I advanced in secondary school – not unlike what was happening in my California high school – I just wasn’t ready for it when it happened. I was stuck in one culture, trying to understand another – and I stayed in the one I was most familiar with, the one I was born and imprinted in. Things turned out right over time – but I wish I could have seen the light when going through the process. Learning is a lifelong challenge. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I encourage asking for help – that takes courage – and others are usually ready to step in and lend a willing hand.
Some of you may view this story, not in terms of cultural indoctrination gone wrong but rather that of teenage folly on the journey through adolescence. You may well be right.
I hope to see both Joann and Karen again, in one place or another. I no longer oppose reunions – and those who attend do so with my blessing – they do serve a purpose – if nothing more than to reconnect with those of whom you shared a moment in time. Joann and Karen were my first real American friends – they just happened to be girls, and the fondness I had for them so many years ago remains firm in my memories – they truly had a significant and positive influence on my life and on who I would become. Thank you, Karen, Debra, Dawn, and Joann.
Thanks for coming down this road with me, and I hope to see you in the next installment, where I’ll examine Culture Shock through my 18-year-old eyes as I arrived for duty in Vietnam.
Mr. Rich Holbrook (Lt Col, USAF-ret) is the former Director of the Intercultural Competence Basic Course at the Air Force Special Operations School and is now Professor Emeritus at Interlink Consulting, Inc.