There was a big surprise waiting for us when we arrived back in Honolulu! Reverse culture shock!
On the way from the airport to our home, we stopped at a drugstore to pick up a few necessities. Betty came out in 5 minutes — empty handed! She couldn’t stand the noise level.
Back home, the phone rang and we both “jumped” from the startling rIng. The Dean of the college was calling. “Welcome home, Bob, your book orders are due tomorrow.” We disconnected the phone, and the doorbell.
The noise, traffic, crowds of people, the time-pressure of deadlines and commuting… took several weeks to get back “in” to the pace. After only three months on an isolated island that was an almost completely silent environment — no cars, no TV or radio, no phones or electricity, or way to play music – we had grown accustomed to the peace of “quiet.”
My sabbatical year was over; I had to write my report of all we had done and learned. What a year of excitement and adventure! My report focused on my perception of what the students of the Pacific had to deal with in coming to Hawaii for school. The vast expanse of the Pacific with differing lifestyles, the world view of students from isolated island groups, and cultural differences were things the students would need to learn about.
One of the students at MIBS ran from me when I complimented the shirt he was wearing, a common cultural habit in the USA. Our host explained that when someone complimented any of your possessions, you were supposed to give it to them. The student knew I didn’t know the “rules” and didn’t want to give up his shirt, so he ran away.
We brought Josie, one of our students, to Honolulu for treatment for a back problem. She said her friends back in Micronesia could not believe there were buildings 40 stories high, and “moving” stairs – an escalator. She was delighted to overcome her fear of taking public transportation, a bus, around the island.
Guam was Americanized and modern; while many of the islands had a standard of living close to living off the land, and not much advancement since the 1940s WWII. Fish was basic everywhere, and tropical fruit, coconut, and growing vegetables. The young men thought they could survive on a tropical island, but would be lost in a developed industrial city.
We were warned early on that Micronesians are ‘laid back” and operate on “Micronesian time.” Whoever is in front of them, or the activity they are engaged in, is priority, so having an appointment, like class starting time, or a deadline, has to be emphasized.
Remembering our shock of coming from a silent environment, to a noisy one, has caused us to be more aware of the noise around us now. I am conscious of the noise of the washing machine, and the TV volume level. Research has confirmed that noise is stressful to the human nervous system.
Have you ever experienced silence long enough to make you aware of the noise in your environment? If so, have you done anything to change that stress?