2024 Blog

My Four Stages of Culture Shock

Hi! It’s been about two weeks into my Pedal the Pacific experience — and I’ve mentally categorized my experiences into the four stages of culture shock: the honeymoon stage, the frustration stage, the adjustment stage, and the acceptance stage. I feel like I’ve experienced the whole spectrum within the first week and experience the culture shock spectrum on a day-to-day basis. I’ve experienced culture shock with biking hills, cold camp sites, driving our SAG (safety and gear van), getting to know my wonderful teammates, talking to strangers that are negatively postured towards hearing about sex trafficking, talking to strangers that are so gracious and offer to host next year, getting told ‘yes’ and ‘no’ on the phone for a food donation, and hearing about the nuances and trenches of sex trafficking.

Though the stages can feel like whiplash, I’m also so appreciative of the whiplash. I’m never uncomfortable for too long but I’m also not comfortable for too long. On mile 32, I’m dry heaving on an uphill in my highest gear and on mile 33, I’m high off of endorphins on a down hill going  My limits of normalcy and endurance and comfort are expanded everyday.

Paralleling, once I learn about one concept, statistic, or success story of sex trafficking—and I think I understand and am filled with so much hope—I hear another concept, statistic, or testimony. I’m in the honeymoon stage and then immediately shift to the frustration stage. However, it’s humbling and and the honor of my life that I get to learn about sex trafficking through Pedal. It’s humbling and an honor to be able to expand my knowledge and empathy, and get a glimpse of what the world could be if more people knew about sex trafficking—and to envision a world where people are not for sale.

All this said, I wanted to share a few experiences from each stage of culture shock I’ve experienced and to illuminate my pedal experience so far.

The honeymoon stage

I’ve learned that conversations with strangers always come at divine times and remind me of why I ride. I’ve experienced the immense generosity and curioisty of strangers who never ask for notoriety or thankfulness in return. On day 1, we were making our first sandwich lunch in the SAG. A couple came up to the van, made a donation, and started chatting with us. The husband asked me 2 questions. The first, “How do you anticipate or want to be different after you cross the finish line in San Diego?” I answered—from learning about sex trafficking:

I inherently feel so much anger and grief. I feel like a spectator that can’t do anything. At the end of this experience, I hope I can convey at least an ounce of those emotions about sex trafficking to any stranger that I talk to about the cause, and that they’re left with a grief and an anger that they can channel into change.

His second question, “What is a fact that if people knew about sex trafficking would change the culture?” I answered—sex trafficking is a $150 billion dollar industry. It’s so lucrative and pays for the rent, entertainment, and amenities of pimps. Sex trafficking victims are treated as a high-reward and a low-risk endeavor. Sex trafficking is upheld by local governments and people in power because they profit off it immensely—and because money is valued more than freedom, 100,000+ individuals are trafficked in the U.S. every year. Having my first conversation on day 1 of Pedal and seeing the understanding in his face was a honeymoon stage moment. Getting to translate statistics and facts I’ve learned this past year and to transplant my passion to this man was emotional fuel for the next 1,700-miles. Having conversations with strangers that are postured towards goodness and change and hope reminds me that a culture change is possible.

The frustration stage

In Seattle, we had the privilege of hearing from two non-profits, REST and BEST. I learned so much, but left so frustrated. One of the woman told us that 2,000-3,000 people are trafficked every night in Seattle—and this number is deflated, since the statistic only comes from self-reported numbers. I also learned that the average age of a domestic sex trafficking victim is 12—12. But the anecdote that left me on the verge of tears was when she said “I get to decide what I do with my Saturday Morning. sex trafficking victims do not.” For me, it illuminated another perspective to the fact that trafficking is the complete elimination of choice. There’s literally no other viable options. There are no weekend plans to make. There’s no choice of deciding between going to brunch with friends or sleeping in—because everything is decided for you, but the outcomes are horrific. It’s frustrating to know that everyone deserves choice and freedom, even if it’s deciding how to spend your weekend. However, that is not the reality for so many. The freedom of choice is taken at every single level.

The adaptation stage

A few days ago, we heard from our other beneficiary, Safety Compass, a non-profit that provides navigational support for survivors of commercial sexual exploitation to take the first steps in the healing process. I learned so much from this conversation—but one story stood out to me. The founder told us how on one night, a 15-year old was trafficked between state lines and if she didn’t get a bed for the night, she would be sent to prison for the night for prostitution. The founder told us how she called 114 rehab centers before she received a yes on the 115th call. The founder told us how she adapted to being told no— but adapted from being sad to being pissed—and that was the adaptation that fueled her. When hearing this, I paralleled it to being told no for food donations, having men laugh at us, or people devaluing the gravity of domestic sex trafficking. But there’s adaptation to be found in every moment—and it’s often converting disappointment to anger.

The acceptance stage

I’m not sure if I have a specific experience that encompasses an acceptance stage, because there’s nothing to ‘accept’ with trafficking—but maybe that’s an acceptance within itself. (?)

But overall, I’ve accepted that when you do easy things life becomes hard, but when you do hard things life becomes meaningful- and that’s what Pedal is. I’ve accepted that I will probably only pedal the Pacific for 7 weeks with these wonderful women once in my life and that I want to make the most of it. I’ve accepted that relinquishing control of expectations is key to this experience—whether it’s an outcome in a conversation or how a day will turn out.

I’m grateful and honored and humbled and privileged everyday—and I’m curious to see what the next stages of culture shock will entail the next 30 days.

<3 Hanna Sun

July 12, 2024
Chloe Aguilar

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